Is there room for hydrogen-powered cars in a future that looks electric?

Source: NW News Network, April 17

Fifteen years ago, the California and British Columbia governments sketched bold plans for a “hydrogen highway” for clean cars stretching from Whistler, B.C., to the Mexican border. California’s then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger drove a Hummer converted to run on hydrogen. Vancouver city officials pictured travelers to the 2010 Winter Olympics leaving only water vapor exhaust in their wake.

But Oregon and Washington state didn’t warm to the idea. There are still no public fueling stations for hydrogen cars in either state. (Schwarzenegger replaced his hydrogen-fueled Hummer with an electric Mercedes-Benz SUV in 2017.)

Today, automakers Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes make hydrogen fuel cell electric cars in very limited numbers. None of their Pacific Northwest dealers currently stock or sell those models to local drivers. Nevertheless, Toyota is laying the groundwork to bring its hydrogen-powered vehicles to the Northwest.

In Olympia Wednesday, La Stanja Baker, Toyota’s regional government affairs director, offered Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and interested state lawmakers test drives in Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan. Before they drove off, Baker told Inslee that hydrogen refueling stations are a precondition to begin sales.

“The fueling stations, at least initially we think to get the market started there needs to be — as we’ve experienced in California — probably a public-private partnership,” Baker said.

In a later interview, Inslee said he would not rule out alternative fuel incentives or start-up subsidizes down the road. He said he had been thinking about emissions-free, hydrogen-powered transportation “for a long time” as part of drawing on all available strategies to reduce global warming pollution. Combating climate change is the central focus of Inslee’s campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Toyota offered test drives in Salem in the hydrogen-powered Mirai to Oregon lawmakers earlier this year. Any incentives legislators cook up wouldn’t be on the table until next year at the earliest because the deadline to introduce new bills in the 2019 sessions in Olympia and Salem has passed.

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