Fuel cell vehicles need more support

Provide zero emissions with zero compromise

NATIONAL HYDROGEN & FUEL CELL DAY is just around the corner on Sunday, and there’s no better place than Massachusetts – the state declared the nation’s “most innovative” by the Bloomberg index – to celebrate hydrogen’s ability to change the way America moves people and things cleanly and efficiently.  The Bay State is already staking a claim to be the leader in the Northeast’s push for clean fuel cell vehicle technology with an abundance of clean energy commitments, the successful trials of a public zero-emissions fuel cell bus in Boston, as well as the coming hydrogen refueling stations in Mansfield and Braintree.

Fuel cell vehicles are zero-emissions vehicles that generate electricity through a chemical process of hydrogen. While both fuel cell vehicles and battery-electric vehicles are zero emission, fuel cell vehicles provide consumers a choice that replicates today’s consumer experience of driving over 300 miles on a tank of fuel, and refueling in about five minutes.  Zero-emissions with zero compromise.

Massachusetts is a stellar example of bipartisan support for clean energy and zero emissions vehicles.  In 2013, former Democratic governor Deval Patrick joined seven other states in signing the Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding, which collectively called for 3.3 million zero emission vehicles to be on their roadways by 2025.  In 2015, the Massachusetts administration led by Republican governor Charlie Barker committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent from the 1990 level by 2020.  The Baker administration specifically identified zero emission vehicles as a vital element in exceeding this commitment.

These bipartisan policies and programs demonstrate that Massachusetts is ahead of the curve in implementing long-term commitments to clean car technologies, but battery vehicles alone will not be able to achieve these goals, fuel cell vehicles must play a critical role.

By furthering support of fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen, Massachusetts can solidify its regional technology and environmental leadership. The MOR-EV program offers rebates up to $2,500 to consumers purchasing any zero emission vehicle — battery electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles. This is a positive incentive demonstrating that states should offer tax credit parity to all zero emission vehicles, an issue the federal government and several other states have yet to address.

However, while the consumer incentive is important, the state needs to take further action on the supply side.  The MassEVIP program currently only incentivizes battery infrastructure, effectively picking winners and losers and limiting consumer choice. Lawmakers should enable a level playing field by expanding the MassEVIP program to include hydrogen and providing an equitable infrastructure policy solution.

Currently, four retail hydrogen stations are under development in Massachusetts, along with several others opening around the region. They show the industry is responding to current and projected customer demand.  But to fully develop this new vehicle market, it will take additional collaboration with city and state officials, automakers, hydrogen suppliers, and stakeholders to go to the next level.

Massachusetts can take some cues from California on how to proceed.  As the Bay State begins its march towards fuel cell vehicle adoption, it would be valuable to learn from the first American fuel cell vehicle market in California. In addition to state rebates for zero emission vehicle purchases, California has directly funded the development of more than 30 public hydrogen stations in the state, with another 30 in stages of planning and construction.

Support for hydrogen infrastructure in California was born out of bold commitments to leadership by city and state leaders in the movement toward a zero-emissions future, as well as recognition that in order for the state to meet these energy, environmental, transportation, and climate goals, fuel cell vehicles would have to be an integral part of that solution.

As a center of technological innovation, environmental progressivism, and bipartisan collaboration, Massachusetts is leading the fuel cell vehicle and zero emission vehicle movement in the Northeast. By modifying the blueprint established in California to meet the driving, energy savings, and environmental needs of its citizens, Massachusetts can build on its prior efforts and continue to lead the way for other states in the east.

Meet the Author

Morry Markowitz

President, Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association
National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day offers the people and policy makers of Massachusetts a chance to reflect on how far they’ve come, as well as the distance they must yet cover, to transform transportation their way. Fuel cell vehicles make this possible.  Add the Commonwealth’s commitment to innovation, and the transportation future looks bright and clear. 

Morry Markowitz is president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, a national collaborative dedicated to the commercialization of fuel cell vehicles.