Hydrogen–Cost Without End

    Do not think about, write about or deal with  human behavior without determining the effects of incentives.

    The National government of Canada supported hydrogen energy with sudsidies for years–hundreds of millions of dollars were poured down this rabbit hole. One may ask what they were thinking and I know the answer. When you’re spending other people’s money, you don’t  have to think, plan or be responsible.

National Post – (Latest Edition)
Brian Hutchinson Comment from Vancouver
National Post bhutchinson@nationalpost.com

End of line for hydrogen bus
Whistler’s green experiment running on fumes

Maintenance costs three times higher

What exciting times they were, when B.C. premier Gordon Campbell and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would meet and speak of massive pollution cuts, escalating carbon taxes and a “hydrogen highway” that was going run from southern California to British Columbia by the end of 2010.

The deadline passed. Mr. Campbell left B.C. to become Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Mr. Schwarzenegger resumed his action-hero movie adventures and no one talks about the “hydrogen highway” anymore. Few people understood what it even meant, so no big loss. B.C. taxpayers were likely spared some bucks.

One scheme that did emerge — only to flop, hard — is a five-year, $89.5-million transit pilot project in Whistler; it saw 20 hydrogen-powered transit buses delivered to the famed mountain resort town just ahead of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. BC Transit, the Crown corporation that co-ordinates delivery of transit services in the province, called it “the largest hydrogen fuel cell bus fleet and largest fuelling station in the world.”

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    Another hidden cost of the Olympics. Have enough Olympics and become bankrupt.  But remember, anytime a government spends, it’s an investment. Always a stupid investment, but an investment. That’s what they say and politicians are always right.

Now Whistler’s vaunted, one-of-a-kind bus program has broken down, thanks to mechanical failures and related costs that were somehow not foreseen. BC Transit says it can’t keep dumping cash into the project, and there’s little chance it will be renewed next year, when the last cent of allocated cash is spent. In 2009, BC Transit took possession of the 20 fancy buses, all kitted out with finicky hydrogen power plants, and handed them over to a grateful Whistler, which had to pay $16.8-million, its share of the pilot project’s capital and operating costs. The federal government forked over $48-million, while the province pledged $1.8-million annually for “incremental costs” to keep the zero-emissions, non-polluting buses running.

The nuttiest part of the deal? All of the eco-friendly hydrogen required to make the buses operate was trucked across Canada, from a production plant in Quebec. Every 10 days or so. No one makes commercial quantities of hydrogen in Western Canada; plans to create local production facilities never amounted to anything.

It hasn’t escaped notice that Whistler’s hydrogen-powered buses — which, at $2-million apiece, cost four times the amount of regular diesel buses, and twice the amount of proven, hybrid powered models — are also prone to breakdown. According to BC Transit, each Whistler hydrogen bus requires one type of repair or another after 3,000 kilometres of service, on average. The corporation’s diesel buses require maintenance every 5,000 kilometres. Big difference.

In September, The Whistler Question newspaper published other troubling figures: “Maintenance costs for a diesel bus average 64 cents per kilometre, and $1 for a hydrogen bus, with those costs expected to increase to $2.28 per kilometre by the end of the five-year program as component and part warranties expire.”

As the article surmised, the end is near. The pilot project has been a bust. But some officials have not come to terms with that. “Depending on what the fleet is replaced with, it’s a little premature to comment on whether I’ll be disappointed in seeing the hydrogen buses leave or not,” Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden told the newspaper.

Who won’t be sad to see them go? Local transit workers and the union representing them. They’ve been griping about the Whistler pilot project ever since it received the government’s green light. Unifor, the massive private-sector union that formed this year and now represents transit workers in B.C., has just released more bus documents, obtained after members filed a provincial Freedom of Information Act request. They demonstrate again how inefficient the Whistler fleet has been, right from the start.

The technology doesn’t work that well in cold weather conditions; Whistler has quite a lot of that. Freezing water tanks make such basic tasks as starting an engine difficult, sometimes impossible. “The average fuel range is below the amount specified in the contract and is worse during the colder winter months, maintenance costs and time are three times higher than diesel buses, and the fuel costs/consumption is three times that of a diesel bus,” reads a BC Transit document prepared in September 2012 and just recently obtained by Unifor Local 333 in Victoria.

The province’s hydrogen bus bomb has caused at least one pleasant aftershock, at least: Big labour, lamenting inefficiencies created by an illconsidered, tax-funded green scheme. All that bus money is wasted, laments Ben Williams, president of Unifor Local 333 in Victoria. “The hydrogen buses don’t run properly in the cold Whistler environment,” he said in an interview. “You’d think someone would have considered that, before any cash was spent.”

It now seems unlikely that the province will meet its ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets for 2020, says the Business Council of B.C.. The province, it notes, is already far behind in its 33% GHG reduction plan, announced five years ago, when Mr. Campbell was still in charge and mingling with The Governator. Seven years hence, the province may be “at basically the same emissions level as in 2005,” says the council, a conservative group that’s independent of government.

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   Everyone talks about greenhouse gases as if they existed. Since there is no Global Warming, there can be no greenhouse gases.


This should not surprise. B.C. continues to make extravagant claims about environmental protection, pollution controls and other green initiatives, yet few have brought any measurable benefit. Just expensive vapour.

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   From another source– This is consistent with the view held by environmentalists that mass transit is always better for the environment than private cars. In fact, as the Post’s Kevin Libin discovered in 2009, this is largely a myth, as the average city bus requires about 20% more energy per passenger than a car.

    I can guarantee that no civil servant’s salary or pension was harmed in the production of the hydrogen bus farce. Nothing is so perpetual as the career of a civil servant.

Once again, a beautiful theory is  slain by ugly reality.

Cheerio and ttfn,
Grant Coulson
Cui Bono–Cherchez les Contingencies

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