WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. - With a history of using alternative-fuel vehicles long before it became chic, White Plains now is the Northeast hub — and one of three cities nationwide — for a model program designed to put hydrogen-powered cars in consumers’ hands, reported in the New York Times.
In partnership with General Motors and a division of Shell Oil, the city has opened on its property the only hydrogen refueling station in the metropolitan area equipped for public use, G.M. and city officials said.
Proponents laud hydrogen-powered, or fuel-cell, vehicles for producing virtually no emissions and reducing the need for traditional fossil fuel. The vehicles are still in development — and out of most consumers’ reach with price tags for some ringing in at nearly $90,000 — but they are already refueling at the station on the Public Works Department’s refueling site.
Two hydrogen-powered versions of the Chevrolet Equinox sport utility vehicle are now on Westchester roads as part of G.M.’s Project Driveway, which aims to lend 100 fuel-cell vehicles free to consumers in New York, Washington and Los Angeles over the next three years, said Daniel O’Connell, G.M.’s director of fuel-cell commercialization.
The goal of the program, which began here earlier this month, is to garner and use consumer feedback and experiences when G.M. takes the car from model to mainstream, O’Connell said.
The city has amassed about $700,000 in grants from Shell, the New York Power Authority and the State Energy Research and Development Authority to buy five of its own hydrogen-powered vehicles, said Joseph Nicoletti Jr., the public works commissioner. Under its agreement with G.M., the city gets half the station’s hydrogen output for use in its fuel-cell vehicles, according to the New York Times.
Those vehicles include three Toyota Prius hybrids that run on electricity and hydrogen rather than the electricity and gasoline that power mainstream hybrids. Two Chevrolet fuel-cell pickup trucks — one runs solely on hydrogen, the other on a combination of hydrogen and compressed natural gas — are also joining the city fleet, Nicoletti said.
“The big benefit of using hydrogen as a fuel is that there is practically zero pollution,” said Nicoletti, who oversees the city’s approximately 400 vehicles, about 20 percent of which run on alternative energies including electricity, ethanol and compressed natural gas. “Water vapor is what comes out of the exhaust pipe.”
Maria Recchia-O’Neill of Rye Brook, who is one of the first two local residents to get one of the Equinoxes on a three-month loan, said driving the car had created even more interest in alternative fuels than she had expected. She is the science curriculum coordinator for the Port Chester Public Schools.
“I am very concerned about the state of our planet,” said Recchia-O’Neill, who came across G.M.’s online application while researching a school project on the subject. “I like knowing that we’re doing something good and making this a viable option.”
For the city, the involvement in Project Driveway is one step in its long use of alternative fuel, which dates to the 1978 gasoline shortage, when the federal government promoted the use of gasohol, a combination of gasoline and ethanol, Nicoletti said.
Since then, the city has created a range of fuel-saving techniques, from using and combining alternative energies to reducing the weight of trucks by replacing steel frames with aluminum or fiberglass, Nicoletti said.
For many years, White Plains had the only ethanol-fueling station in New York.
O’Connell said the mass production of affordable fuel-cell vehicles was at least five years off. But incorporating the vehicles into the city fleet now — as well as having the ability to refuel them — sets the stage to further White Plains’s use of alternative-fuel vehicles after General Motors’ test ends, Nicoletti said.
“I want to keep it going,” he said.