SCHWARZENEGGER'S 'HYDROGEN HIGHWAY' RUNS OUT OF GAS.
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's vision of a "hydrogen highway" -- 100 fueling stations by 2010 that would make it practical for California motorists to use nonpolluting hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles -- has hit a roadblock.
Each of the last three organizations offered a state grant toward a fueling station has decided not to pursue the project. In the most recent rejection, Pacific Gas and Electric decided not to build a key San Francisco Bay Area fueling station in San Carlos.
In addition, three stations have recently closed, including one in Richmond that served Contra Costa County buses and was dismantled this week.
That means the state is down to 23 stations amid concerns that the technology is not viable in the near future and it might be many more years before consumers have any real access to the vehicles now used mostly by government agencies in demonstration projects.
PG&E's decision to turn down $1.5 million in state funds to build a large-scale, retail hydrogen station in San Carlos is especially noteworthy. The site was supposed to serve as a hub for hundreds of Mercedes-Benz's passenger vehicles that were going to be leased next year in Northern California -- the first significant effort to make the vehicles available to the public.
Instead, PG&E officials said they've shifted hydrogen to the rear and now consider it a distant technology, with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids moving to the front of the line.
"Things have changed," said Jill Egbert, manager of PG&E's Clean Air Transportation division.
"We feel hydrogen is a long-term solution, but there is no one technology that will be the silver bullet to meet transportation needs. From a resource standpoint, we feel a more pressing need to see how electric vehicles will affect our grid."
Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless gas. A fuel cell uses electricity harnessed from an electro-chemical reaction involving hydrogen and oxygen to power the vehicle's motor. The new generation of hydrogen cars will be able to run for about 250 miles before refueling.
Environmental experts and automakers said the developments present statewide threats to the future of the hydrogen highway.
"This is a significant change in attitude. People are simply refusing to participate, even if they get money from the state. If state officials don't step in, the hydrogen highway could collapse," said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency & Renewable Technologies.
The setbacks have prompted Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board, to hold a meeting in Sacramento with automakers, energy companies and members of the California Fuel Cell Partnership -- a group of state and private interests working on the hydrogen highway program.