Total Recall?

That Arnold Schwarzenegger film title may be apropos for the California Energy Commission's decision last week to at least temporarily revoke about $27 million in grants earmarked for a string of hydrogen refueling stations through the state formerly governed by the action-film star.

Under the California Fuel Cell Partnership, about two-thirds of the grants were to be directed to Linde Group and Air Products & Chemicals. Those two companies were supposed to build the stations to accommodate the expected first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in the middle of this decade, according to the Santa Monica Mirror. But there were issues.

The grants have been revoked so that the cash-strapped state can reassess the grant process, largely because of complaints that the two large companies more-or-less self-dealt the contracts. The way this allegedly happened is that at least one of the eight automakers involved in the California Fuel Cell Partnership (Chrysler, Daimler, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen) were required to approve any potential station location. But, the Mirror writes, "Suspicions of collusion in the grant approvals arose because Linde and Air Products executives interact at many meetings and because the carmakers approved only one refueling location not belonging to either of those companies."

In 2004, former California Governor Schwarzenegger approved the so-called California Hydrogen Blueprint Plan that set a goal of as many as 100 statewide hydrogen fueling stations by the end of 2010 with a longer-term phase goal of as many as 250 stations. The U.S. Energy Department says there are currently 23 stations in the state.

The hydrogen station flap is the most recent involving the most populous U.S. state and its efforts to broaden an infrastructure that would support zero-emissions vehicles. In March, NRG Energy reached an agreement for the state to invest $120 million to install more than 10,000 electric-vehicle charging points to be built by NRG that would comprise what's been billed as an "Electric Expressway." The settlement spurred San Francisco-based Ecotality to sue the state, because the agreement allegedly gives NRG an unfair advantage over companies like Ecotality in terms of charging-station market share.

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