Fuel cell power plants (FCPP) as a combined source of heat, power and hydrogen (CHP&H) can be considered as a potential option to supply both thermal and electrical loads. Hydrogen produced from the FCPP can be stored for future use of the FCPP or can be sold for profit. In such a system, tariff rates for purchasing or selling electricity, the fuel cost for the FCPP/thermal load, and hydrogen selling price are the main factors that affect the operational strategy. This paper presents a hybrid evolutionary programming and Hill-Climbing based approach to evaluate the impact of change of the above mentioned cost parameters on the optimal operational strategy of the FCPP. The optimal operational strategy of the FCPP for different tariffs is achieved through the estimation of the following: hourly generated power, the amount of thermal power recovered, power trade with the local grid, and the quantity of hydrogen that can be produced. Results show the importance of optimizing system cost parameters in order to minimize overall operating cost. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.