Colorless, Odorless... and a Long Ways Away

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Catching up on some news that happened while we were closely watching all things budget impasse... there's yet another dose of cold water on one of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's pet projects: vehicles powered by hydrogen.

Last Thursday, the National Research Council concluded that, at best, there will be 2 million hydrogen vehicles on the road by 2020. Even more restrained: the new report's assessment that it will be 2023 before such vehicles become "competitive" in cost with other cars and trucks.

Lest we forget, the governor got on board the hydrogen train long before he became a true believer in climate change policy and other kinds of alternative fuels. It was April 2004 when Schwarzenegger created the "California Hydrogen Highways Network" with a goal of 150 to 200 hydrogen refueling stations across the state by 2010.

More than four years after he grandly declared hydrogen transportation as "real and attainable," the creation of all of those refueling stations is only puttering forward. Last year, the state Air Resources Board effectively rethought the governor's vision of hydrogen stations up and down the length of the state, choosing instead a strategy of clustering refueling sites in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas.

If this seemingly slow pace (remember the guv's call for a large network by 2010?) is actually as expected, then it seems the governor's trademark salesmanship was way over the top. If the current progress on the "hydrogen highway" was unexpected, then Schwarzenegger again seems to have overpromised.

Either way, the new study reinforces the evidence that hydrogen as a mainstream, popular fuel source isn't close to being ready for prime time... no matter how enthusiastic the state's chief executive was as he wheeled into that photo op in the spring of 2004 at UC Davis (in a big SUV, of course) to pump hydrogen fuel into a vehicle as the cameras clicked.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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