Motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists have long treated Woodside's Four Corners at the intersection of La Honda Road and Skyline Boulevard as a destination. It's exciting to get there over winding mountain roads, it's all downhill to the beach, and if you like being around exotic vehicles and their owners, on weekends it could hardly be better.
Bugatti, Ducati, Austin Healey, MV Agusta, Ferrari ... Toyota Mirai. Yes, for now, the Mirai belongs in that list. It runs on hydrogen, which when used as a fuel, is exotic. But it won't be exotic for long if the state of California has anything to say about it, and it does. Heavy state subsidies are funding the placement of hydrogen stations in select areas of the state as part of a long-term goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline.
A Mirai may show up at Four Corners in a year or so. The California Energy Commission is contributing $2.1 million to an estimated $2.8 million remodel of the service station at the Skywood Trading Post to add a hydrogen pump.
The Bay Area should have 10 hydrogen stations in place by the end of 2015, according to an Energy Commission report. The Skylonda station should be operational around mid-2016, said Bob Boyd, a principal of Boyd Hydrogen LLC who helped arrange grant funding for the Skylonda project.
The station operator will be Canada-based Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corp., which will fund the remaining $700,000 in remodeling costs and receive a subsidy from the Energy Commission of $100,000 a year for three years to give the station a running start at profitability.
A group of about a dozen local residents met at Alice's Restaurant on July 21 to seek answers to questions: Is hydrogen safe? Will the station see enough business at this remote outpost? What about the effects on levels of noise, pollution and traffic?
"This is not going to be a big station. This is a small station. This is a demonstration station," Mr. Boyd said. "They call this a destination station." The tanks will have enough hydrogen to fill 25 vehicles a day, but daily traffic is unlikely to exceed three cars, and maybe 10 on weekends, he said.
One resident liked the idea of a new enterprise at the Trading Post. "That opens the door for the beginning of (more) business," the resident said. "It sure would be nice to have some fuel-cell cars showing up at Alice's once in a while."
The Energy Commission used a mathematical formula to determine where to locate stations to create a viable hydrogen market, commission staff member Jean Baronas told the Woodside Planning Commission recently. Assembly Bill 8, passed in 2014, authorizes the state to spend $100 million a year for the next nine years on alternatives to fossil fuels, she said.
"If you want to change the way we use transportation products in this country," Mr. Boyd told the group, "you have to make an investment."
The state Environmental Protection Agency predicts 6,650 hydrogen-powered vehicles on the road by 2017, and three times that many by 2020.
Ordering a Mirai is no simple matter. You must garage it in California and agree to be interviewed, according to list of questions and answers at tinyurl.com/tyt34. Proximity to a fuel station is a factor. Asked when he would consider buying or leasing a hydrogen fuel-cell car, Mr. Boyd said he'd wait until there are two or three stations up and running in the vicinity.
At the Trading Post, 33 percent of the hydrogen will be produced on site, with the rest trucked in as needed on flat-bed trailers coming south on Skyline Boulevard from Highway 92. Hydrogen pumps at gasoline stations are not a problem since the two fuels are not inter-reactive and "play safe," Mr. Boyd said. Fueling is silent, as are the vehicles, he said.
The station's hydrogen storage tanks are "virtually indestructible," he said. If someone tossed a grenade or fired an anti-tank shell at one, the weapon itself would release more energy than if the tank were penetrated, he said. And even if hydrogen were to escape, unlike gasoline, it's lighter than air and would dissipate immediately, he said.
Of the 400 gallons of pure water generated per month as a byproduct, half will go to irrigate station landscaping, with the rest made available to residents, Mr. Boyd said.
"I'd like to see hydrogen-fuel-celled quiet Harley-Davidson (motorcycles)," one resident said.
"No!" said another resident. "We have enough motorcycles already!"