The "hydrogen highway" idea has had a long, bumpy ride. It was first unveiled in 2004 when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger filled up a hydrogen-powered Toyota Highlander at a news conference at UC Davis and announced plans to build 50 to 100 hydrogen stations in California by 2010.
The plan failed. Schwarzengger had called for a public-private partnership, but he never checked with oil companies first. They didn't want to build the stations.
Brown took a different approach. In January 2012, his Air Resources Board passed a rule forcing oil companies to build the stations. They threatened to sue. One Valero executive said his company objected "to being forced to fund its own demise."
Also, private owners, not refiners such as Chevron and Shell, own most gas stations, said Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, making the mandate to build hydrogen stations even more questionable.
"It was our view that the regulation exceeded the air board's legal authority," he said.
Hence, the compromise.
"You have to look at the bigger picture. It's not about letting one industry off the hook," said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, a senior director with the American Lung Association of California. "It's a practical solution to get benefits now. We're moving away from dirty fuels."
It was front-page news less than a decade ago, and the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento was ground zero for what was touted as a forward-looking effort to green the Golden State.
Governors want to put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on road within 12 years.
In predictive computer models, FCEVs (fuel cell electric vehicles) frequently achieved a higher projected market share than battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrids.