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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- With a history of using alternative-fuel vehicles long before it became chic, the town of White Plains, N.Y., is now the Northeast hub -- and one of three cities nationwide -- for a model program designed to put hydrogen-powered cars in consumers' hands, according to The New York Times.
The station is the result of a partnership with General Motors (GM) and a division of Shell Oil, the report stated. The station is the only hydrogen refueling location in the metropolitan area equipped for public use, GM and city officials told the paper.
Proponents laud hydrogen-powered, or fuel-cell, vehicles for producing virtually no emissions and reducing the need for traditional fossil fuels, the report stated. The vehicles are still in development and out of most consumers' reach with price tags for some ringing in at nearly $90,000, but a few are already refueling at the station on the Public Works Department's refueling site, according to the report.
Two hydrogen-powered versions of GM's Chevrolet Equinox SUV are now on Westchester roads as part of GM’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, according to Daniel O'Connell, GM's director of fuel-cell commercialization.
The goal of the program, which began earlier this month, is to garner and use consumer feedback and experiences when GM takes the car from model to mainstream, O'Connell told the Times.
White Plains 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, according to Joseph Nicoletti Jr., the public works commissioner. Under its agreement with GM, the city gets half the station's hydrogen output for use in its fuel-cell vehicles, the report stated.
Those vehicles include three Toyota Prius hybrids that run on electricity and hydrogen rather than the electricity and gasoline that power mainstream hybrids, and two Chevrolet fuel-cell pickup trucks, one running solely on hydrogen, the other on a combination of hydrogen and compressed natural gas, Nicoletti told the newspaper.
"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."
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, according to Nicoletti. 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.
For many years, White Plains had the only ethanol fueling station in New York, according to the Times. O'Connell told the paper that 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' use of alternative-fuel vehicles after General Motors' test ends.