UTC Power reaches the edge

While you were still busy clearing snow from the February blizzard, a storied piece of Connecticut’s business and energy history underwent a massive transformation. UTC Power, the fuel cell division of United Technologies was purchased by ClearEdge Power, a West Coast relative newcomer to the world of fuel cells that UTC all but invented.

It had been clear since last summer that UTC Power was being shopped as a way to raise capital for UTC’s purchase of Goodrich. ClearEdge was announced as the buyer in late December. The deal became final Feb. 12.

ClearEdge, based in Oregon, was formed in 2003, a stark contrast to UTC Power, which began making fuel cells in the 1960s specifically for NASA’s space programs. That relationship lasted from Apollo through the shuttle.

Also in contrast, but what industry analysts saw as a good fit, UTC had been making the largest available fuel cells — 400 kilowatts. ClearEdge’s were among the smallest, including a 5 kw one that could run a large house or small business.

ClearEdge in fact began soliciting business in Connecticut a little over a year ago, specifically, microgrid possibilities and other small applications.

The key question has been what would happen with all UTC Power’s facilities and employees. The answer for now is nothing.

All 380 UTC Power employees have transitioned to ClearEdge. That includes spokeswoman Jennifer Sager who said priority No. 1 is to begin working with all UTC customers for “a seamless transition,” she said. “No. 2 is to integrate as one company. What that strategy looks like, I can’t tell today.”

Many have felt ClearEdge would not close UTC’s South Windsor facilities, as they provide a convenient jumping off point to the European market. ClearEdge’s Oregon facilities are better positioned for Asian business — a prime fuel cell market.

ClearEdge also inherited an unusual problem with its UTC Power acquisition — UTC’s fuel cell installation planned for the World Trade Center in New York. One of the largest in the country, it was to include 12 400 kw fuel cells, three each in four buildings, including the main tower.

Nine had been delivered, though none were running when storm Sandy hit. Floodwaters inundated several and ruined an undisclosed number. Sager said the company is working with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to determine what should be done.

“No one anticipated that those constructions sites would be underwater,” she said. “It’s sort of an unprecedented thing.

“We never had our fuel cells in a disaster area like this.”

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