Wilhelm-Morden was not surprised that Whistler’s hydrogen bus pilot and fuelling station are being dismantled given the high cost of the project, but said she is disappointed that the pilot didn’t work as planned.
“I always thought it was cool that the only thing coming out of the exhaust pipes of these buses is water, and obviously we’re going to lose that,” she said.
“We are getting Nova clean diesel buses that do give off emissions, but it will be so much better than the diesel buses that we currently have. It’s a bit of a step backward from an emissions perspective.”
The Ministry of Transportation confirmed last week that the pilot would not be renewed after it concludes in March 2014, after four years and three months in service.
The pilot project was created to showcase the technology and B.C. businesses in the hydrogen fuel cell industry, like Ballard Power Systems, during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Whistler was also considered to be the perfect testing ground for the technology given the range of temperatures, weather and terrain.
The cost of the pilot project was $89.5 million, with the municipal government contributing $16.8 million — the cost the municipality would have paid to operate and maintain a standard diesel fleet.
None of the plans that would have made the hydrogen buses viable for the long term came to pass.
For example, a hydrogen highway connecting B.C. to California — a priority for former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger — never materialized.
As well, plans to find a local source of hydrogen that would have significantly reduced the fuel price and cost of operating the system was never completed.
The hydrogen fuel for the pilot had to be trucked to Whistler from Quebec, over 5,000 kilometres away, and as a result the fuel cost was $2.28 per kilometre, three times the cost of diesel.
As well, maintenance of the buses — which struggled with software issues and in the cold weather — cost $1 per kilometre, versus 65 cents per kilometre for a diesel bus.
The return to diesel buses comes just as the Sea to Sky Clean Air Society revealed that particulate matter, an airborne pollutant and health risk, is higher than previously thought.
New, more sensitive equipment installed by the organization at Meadow Park last January has revealed background levels of particulate that are higher than previously thought. Overall, Whistler’s air quality is still good, but there are spikes where the air quality comes close to, and exceeds, provincial thresholds where advisories are issued.
The hydrogen fuelling facility at Nesters will also be taken down.
At the time the new bus depot and fuelling station were built, the municipality came under fire for their decision to allow for the partial backfilling of a wetland in the area to increase the lot size. Supporters of the project defended the decision on the basis that the environmental benefits of the hydrogen fleet exceeded the damage to the wetland.
An update report from 2012 that marked the 1.5 million road mile mark for the hydrogen fleet reported that carbon emissions were reduced 60 per cent over diesel, even taking into consideration the emissions from trucking the hydrogen from Quebec.