Monday, August 10, 2009

The Hydrogen PR Offensive

It's a familiar story in California: clean-burning alternative energy as a great idea in search of sufficient infrastructure to implement it effectively.

The lastest example is hydrogen.

As a first step to building the much ballyhooed "hydrogen highway" (the five year plan to build hydrogen fueling stations for fuel cell vehicles up and down the state), Shell sought approval from the city Planning Commission in Torrance, CA to build a small, automated fueling station in Torrance. Thought to be a pro-forma step, imagine the company's surprise when they were flatly denied!

Local residents, armed with the kind of misinformation not seen in these parts since the LNG controversy of a couple of years ago (fireballs, mass destruction, end of the human race, etc.) made their voices heard and the Planning Commission did what planning commissions do in those situations.

After regrouping, Team Hydrogen did what it should have done in the first place-- and what it is going to need to do going forward all over the state: it went on a charm offensive and hosted a major community and media event at Toyota Headquarters in Torrance.

The episode provides a lesson that is applicable to the entire range of alternative energy technologies: the urgency of the agenda and the overall public desire to embrace new technologies is not going to be enough; NIMBYism is real and it is going to take lots and lots of outreach all up and down the state before the kinds of alternative energy advances contemplated by proponents and legislation can become reality.