Is California’s Hydrogen Fuel Station Investment a Bad Idea?

hydrogen fueling

California is a state that likes to be on the cutting edge of things. For example, just look at their adoption rates of electric vehicles (EVs).

But EVs aren't the only alternative fuel vehicles that the Golden State is investing in: they’re also spending a healthy chunk of change on hydrogen vehicles. Just recently, the state’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, signed over $100 million of state funding to continue building the state’s hydrogen fueling network.

But is that a good (practical) use of taxpayer money?

Hydrogen Vehicles by The Numbers.

It’s a move that’s certainly in character for a state that has historically been so tech and environmentally friendly. A spokesperson for Governor Newsom even released a statement calling it “a big deal in the fight against climate change.”

But people opposed to nine figures worth of taxpayer money spent on further developing the infrastructure for a technology that most Californians don’t (and likely won’t ever) use is not a proper allocation of the state’s tax revenue.

And they have a point.

Less than 20,000 hydrogen vehicles have been sold in the Golden State. Currently, there are only 65 fueling stations in the state. Roughly two-thirds are located in the southern California counties, Los Angeles, Orange, and Santa Clara. Surprisingly, few are located in the Bay Area, where most people would expect to find them. Curiously, quite a few hydrogen fueling stations are located in the state’s capitol, Sacramento.

So, in a state with over 31 million registered vehicles (there’s a reason that Los Angeles and Bay Area traffic is what it is), the only place that owning a hydrogen vehicle remains remotely plausible is in and around LA County.

What Doesn’t Help Is How Expensive These Vehicles Are.

Also, there are not too many options to choose from either. For example, the Hyundai NEXO and the Toyota Mirai, the only new hydrogen-powered vehicles currently available for sale in California, cost over $61,000 and $50,000, respectively.

Considering that the average American only makes less than $60,000 annually, those price tags are out of most people’s budgets. Not to mention that even if someone could afford to buy one, they’d only be able to drive it around Los Angeles. Oh, and did we mention that according to the US Department of Energy, it’s estimated to cost anywhere from $78 to $90 to fill up a hydrogen car? (These are not vehicles for the working class.)

However, if someone is willing to buy a used hydrogen-powered vehicle, first-generation Toyota Mirais and used Honda Clarity are available for around $25,000 and $15,000 (talk about vehicle depreciation.) But that’s still almost 50 percent of the average annual income.

Even the private sector is not optimistic of a hydrogen vehicle future in the Golden State, with the Shell corporation backing out of their $40.8 million deal to develop more hydrogen fueling stations throughout the state (and they’re all in on doing so abroad where the company believes the technology has a more economically viable future.)

It will be interesting to see how long California will continue to spend money on developing such an impractical technology.

But considering the commitments that companies like Toyota and Honda have made to developing new hydrogen vehicles, it’s unlikely that the Golden State will abandon allocating tax dollars towards developing infrastructure for these vehicles anytime soon.

Author: Jarret Hendrickson

Title: Writer

Expertise: Automotive Industry News, Film, Drama, and Creative Writing.