FUEL CELL EXEC PITCHES LAWMAKERS ON ENERGY TECHNOLOGY

A fuel cell company that counts Apple, Staples, Verizon and other big companies among its energy clients appealed to Massachusetts lawmakers Wednesday for help deploying what they called "the next generation of energy technology." Charles Fox, representing Bloom Energy Corporation, told members of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee that its energy servers can target locations on the grid where energy is needed and represent a new form of energy infrastructure that's more reliable and has lower environmental impacts than existing energy generation modes. The company does not have energy operations in Massachusetts, Fox said, but has sites running in 100 locations, including Connecticut, New York, Delaware, North Carolina and California. Fox appealed to lawmakers to make non-combustible fuel cell technology eligible under a program approved in 2010 calling on utilities to enter into long-term contracts for "newly developed, small emerging or diverse renewable energy distributed generation facilities." In his testimony, Fox said the Department of Energy Resources had determined that Bloom's energy generation technology was not eligible under the program. Fox appealed for action soon to enable time for solicitations to be completed before contracts are awarded under the state program. In a letter to the DOER in May, Fox wrote that "Massachusetts simply has no programs in which natural gas powered fuel cells are eligible to compete." Fox told lawmakers that Bloom's energy servers run quietly with no visible emissions. "You get more generation out of a much smaller footprint," he said. After the hearing, Fox, who was accompanied by Jed Nosal of BrownRudnick, declined to take questions from the News Service. - M. Norton/SHNS

AUDIT: MASSDOT CONSULTANT USE VIOLATED GUIDELINES

Auditor Suzanne Bump urged state transportation officials Thursday to find a "lawful" way to handle information technology work, saying Patrick administration officials have kept consultants on the payroll for years in violation of guidelines that suggest consultants hired by the state are intended to be temporary. Bump released an audit that found 40 percent of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's 76 consultants had been employed for two or more years, including 15 employed for five or more years and one employed for 11 years. Auditors also said they found instances of state employees being supervised by consultants. "The audit concludes that such practices indicate that MassDOT was substituting consultants for state employees, contrary to state finance laws," Bump's office reported. "These findings suggest that MassDOT has been circumventing the administration's imposed salary and staff number limits by misusing consultants. The agency needs to find a lawful way to staff its IT functions." The auditor's office said MassDOT had begun having state employees handle some IT work since the beginning of the audit, which reviewed a two-anda-half-year period from July 2010 to December 2012. - M. Norton/SHNS

LAWMAKERS KEEP FOCUS ON SPECIAL ELECTIONS

With five special elections currently scheduled for April 1, the House and Senate on Thursday rushed to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk a bill that would allow cities and towns in those districts to piggyback municipal elections on the same date. The bill, released from the Committee on Election Laws Thursday morning, also gives Secretary of State William Galvin the authority to give potential candidates in two of those districts - the 2nd Suffolk and 16th Suffolk - an extra week to turn in nomination papers. The bill (H 3841) would allow cities and towns with preliminary or town elections or a Town Meeting scheduled within 30 days before or after April 1 to change the date to coincide with the special legislative races. Elections have been set by the Legislature for April 1 to fill the House seats vacated or soon to be vacated by Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Rep. Kathi-Anne Reinstein, Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty and Sen. Donald Humason and the Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark. Because Reinstein and Flaherty just this week announced their plans to resign, Galvin wants to give candidates in their districts until Jan. 27 to submit nomination papers to local clerks, six more days than than afforded to candidates in the other three districts who have had more time to prepare. The change would force local clerks to certify the signatures in one day by Jan. 28, instead of the more customary six-day window, and push back the deadline to file with Galvin by just one day to Jan. 29. The bill would also schedule a special city election in Beverly for Feb. 8 to rezone a parcel of land that will be swapped so the state can build a connector from Route 128 and a private developer can build a shopping plaza. The House tried to add language to the elections bill that would have authorized the court administrator to apply for and accept gifts, grants or other contributions to be held in a seperate account and expended without a Legislative appropriation. The Senate struck the sections of bill pertaining to the courts with a Sen. Joan Lovely amendment. - M. Murphy/SHNS

PATRICK AND WIFE TO TRAVEL TO ALABAMA FOR SHIP CHRISTENING: Gov. Deval Patrick plans to travel to Alabama Friday to attend the christening ceremony of a new United States naval ship. First Lady Diane Patrick is acting as the sponsor of the christening of the USNS Fall River, which will serve to carry both Army and Navy troops. The christening is set to take place at 10 a.m., Central Time at Austal USA, Assembly Bay 4, in Mobile, Ala. Patrick and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus took part in a 2010 ceremony at Battleship Cove in Fall River to mark the commission and naming of the ship. The Fall River will be the fourth Joint High Speed Vessel in the U.S. Navy. The ships are used to carry cargo and troops at high speed, according to the Navy. "The Fall River represents the physical embodiment of the city of Fall River's patriotic spirit," Mabus said in a statement provided by Patrick's office. Austal USA, the primary contractor for the new vessels and is based in Mobile. Fall River is the site of Battleship Cove, a naval memorial and the site of the largest collection of decommissioned naval craft in the country. Patrick has no political events planned while he is in Alabama, according to his political action committee. - M. Deehan/SHNS

IN MIDST OF DCF AUDIT, BUMP CALLS CWLA REVIEW OF AGENCY "APPROPRIATE"

Amid myriad calls for independent investigations into the operation of the Department of Children and Families, Auditor Suzanne Bump on Thursday said her office would not launch a probe into the handling of the case of missing 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver and related cases of concern, but would continue with an ongoing audit by her office into the agency. Following the disappearance of Oliver and the subsequent revelations that the caseworker assigned to the Oliver family failed to perform requisite home visits and ignored warnings about the well-being of the Oliver children, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr called for an investigation by the auditor, inspector general, or both. Bump on Thursday responded to the request, which she called a reflection of "a growing crisis of confidence in the agency's capacity to protect our children." Bump said that after conversations with Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz relative to an audit her office is already engaged in she believes the Patrick administration's decision to hire the Child Welfare League of America to independently review the agency is an "appropriate response." Bump said her office is in the final stages of an audit of DCF that predates Oliver's disappearance and is focused on a different area of operation than the one called into question by his case. "We will continue our audit and use its findings to assist in the ongoing examination and resulting policy discussions with the CWLA, the administration, the Legislature, and the public," Bump said. DCF has conducted its own internal investigation into the Oliver case, and the state child advocate is doing a separate review. Since the Oliver case made headlines, new allegations have been surfaced by the superintendent of the Northbridge schools suggesting DCF's south central office in Whitinsville has been slow to respond to complaints and may have left vulnerable children in danger. - M. Murphy/SHNS

AIDE TO FRAMINGHAM REP WILL RUN FOR SEAT HELD BY CONROY

Legislative staffer Brian LeFort wasted no time jumping into the race for the 13th Middlesex House district seat that Rep. Thomas Conroy plans to vacate to run for state treasurer. Just hours after Conroy announced his candidacy for treasurer, LeFort said he would run for Conroy's seat. A Framingham Town Meeting member, LeFort has worked as a legislative aide to Rep. Chris Walsh, a Framingham Democrat, since 2010. "I am excited about the opportunity to engage the residents of Sudbury, Wayland, Framingham, and Marlborough," LeFort said in a statement. "I look forward to bringing a fresh perspective, my community experience, and legislative know-how to this race. This campaign will be a grassroots effort to connect with residents about what we can accomplish as a collective group to move the region forward into the 21st Century and beyond." LeFort, 25, graduated from Suffolk University with a dual degree in history and political science. In Framingham, he has served on both the rules and public safety committees as a Town Meeting representative. - M. Murphy/SHNS