July 14, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Problems Keeping The Hydrogen Highway Clean:

Cleaner air, that’s the aim of about $30 million in “hydrogen highway” grants given each year by the California Energy Commission to companies that will build refueling stations for the hydrogen fuel cell cars due to hit the road between now and 2017.

But the commission has had great difficulty keeping its own grant-giving process clean. And trouble may be cropping up again, as the commission gets set to pass out a new batch of grants.

This time, the problem could be a conflict of interest involving a former University of California scientist who said in an online resume that (while consulting for the commission) he “led the..effort…to develop the …hydrogen station roadmap.” A new company co-founded by that scientist, Dr. Tim Brown, apparently now seeks millions of grant dollars, possibly using information he saw when working for the commission.

The recent history of this program clearly implies that no one should be surprised at any ethical problems the commission might blunder into.

Less than two weeks after this column in 2012 exposed a pattern of favoritism and cronyism in grant giving, the commission pulled back $28 million in awards it had announced.

That year, the tentative grants had gone only to station-builders approved by at least one auto manufacturer and virtually all were earmarked for members of the $87,000-per-year-dues California Fuel Cell Partnership, of which the commission was also a paying member. As planned, millions of state dollars were to go almost exclusively to billion-dollar corporations approved by other billion-dollar companies. Non-partners could also apply, but with little chance of success.

Energy commissioners changed their rules, but much of the money – from vehicle license fees – ended up with the same companies previously due to get it.

Then, last May, this column exposed the fact that at least one grant handed out in 2013 went to a company proposing to install hydrogen systems in a Beverly Hills gas station – even though the station owner had not agreed to permit the installation.

Now there’s Brown, until January a senior scientist in the Advanced Power and Energy Program at the University of California, Irvine. He left UCI to start and become president of a hydrogen energy firm called First Element Fuel.

Reliable sources say First Element has applied for well over $10 million in hydrogen station grants. The owner of one service station near Marina del Rey confirms First Energy contacted him recently, trying to induce him to defect from a letter of intent he previously signed as part of another company’s grant application. Sources say First Element has also contacted other station owners already signed up by others.

The Energy Commission stonewalls on all this, refusing to confirm or deny either that Brown ever consulted for it or that First Energy applied for grants. Nor will it say whether Brown had access to other companies’ previous grant applications. The commission refuses even to say whether it would be illegal for one of its former consultants to profit from inside information. For sure, that circumstance would at least convey the impression of corruption.

Tentative new grant awards are to be announced on or before March 28.

“The Energy Commission does not discuss applications during the screening and scoring process,” the agency said in an emailed statement. “As part of its process, the Commission screens for potential conflicts of interest and takes appropriate action to ensure the integrity of the competitive process.”

But the commission’s record demonstrates any efforts to ensure integrity have been incomplete at best.

Meanwhile, Brown did not return email and telephone messages inquiring about his new company and how it came to try to poach stations already signed up by another grant applicant. His resume disappeared from First Element’s website after those attempts to reach him, but printouts remain.

The overall picture is of an agency which has had trouble administering a clean program, no matter what it says. Maybe it will do better this time, for if it can’t run a clean program, how can it help clean the state’s air?

in Opinion
Related Posts

Letter to the Editor: Criticizing Israeli Policy Is Not Antisemitic

July 10, 2024

July 10, 2024

In the past several months, we’ve seen increasing protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza. We have also seen these protests...

SMA.R.T. WISHES ALL A VERY HAPPY 4TH OF JULY WEEK

July 7, 2024

July 7, 2024

We trust you are enjoying this holiday in celebration of Independence. Independence to be embraced, personally and civically, thru active...

SM.a.r.t Column: Santa Monica Under SCAG’s Boot

June 30, 2024

June 30, 2024

Four years ago, our esteemed colleague Mario Fonda-Bonardi wrote the prescient essay below when much of the legislative development juggernaut...

SM.a.r.t Column: The Up Zoning Scam (Part 2)

June 23, 2024

June 23, 2024

Last week’s SMart article  (https://smmirror.com/2024/06/sm-a-r-t-column-the-up-zoning-scam-part-1/)  discussed the ambitious 8895 units (including 6168 affordable units) that Santa Monica is required to...

SM.a.r.t Column: The Up Zoning Scam (Part 1)

June 16, 2024

June 16, 2024

Over the last few years, the State of California has mandated a massive upzoning of cities to create capacity for...

SM.a.r.t. Column: Shape Up – On Steroids

June 9, 2024

June 9, 2024

Nine years ago, SMa.r.t wrote a series of articles addressing the adaptive re-use of existing structures. We titled one “Shape...

SM.a.r.t Column: The Challenge of Running a City When City Staff Have Different Priorities

June 2, 2024

June 2, 2024

Living in a city has its perks, but it can be a real headache when the folks running the show...

SM.a.r.t. Column: A Path to Affordable Ownership in Santa Monica

May 27, 2024

May 27, 2024

[Note: our guest author today is Andres Drobny, a former Professor of Economics at the University of London, the former...

SM.a.r.t. Column: A Path Forward for Santa Monica: Part II

May 19, 2024

May 19, 2024

As referenced in Part I of this article, the state’s use of faulty statistics and forceful legislation has left a...

SM.a.r.t. Column: A Path Forward for Santa Monica: Part I

May 12, 2024

May 12, 2024

To quickly summarize, California grapples with an ongoing housing crisis spurred by state implementation of over 100 policies and mandates...

SM.a.r.t. Column: Where Will Our Huddled Masses Sleep? Navigating California’s Affordable Housing Mandates

May 5, 2024

May 5, 2024

Just as Lady Liberty beckons the “huddled masses” of immigrants to America, cities like Santa Monica have an ethical obligation...

SM.a.r.t Column: SMCLC SPEAKS

April 28, 2024

April 28, 2024

SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow) periodically invites guest columnists who have made a significant contribution to the...

SM.a.r.t Column: Building Modern Boxes Lacks Identity

April 21, 2024

April 21, 2024

In the relentless pursuit of modernity, cities worldwide have witnessed the rise of so-called architectural marvels in the form of...

SM.a.r.t. Column: Santa Monica Needs Responsible Urban and Architectural Design

April 14, 2024

April 14, 2024

[SMa.r.t. note: Eight years ago, our highly esteemed and recently-passed colleague Ron Goldman documented his thoughts on the need for...

SM.a.r.t. Column: BLINK NOW!

April 7, 2024

April 7, 2024

Nine years ago, I wrote a column for SMa.r.t. titled SANTA MONICA: BEACH TOWN OR ‘DINGBAT’ CITY? (https://smdp.com/2015/05/09/santa-monica-beach-town-dingbat-city/)Here is the...