Hydrogen filling station under construction
The hydrogen filling station under construction in Mission Valley. The two hydrogen dispensers are covered with black tarps. Photo by Chris Jennewein

With California mandating the end of gasoline-only vehicle sales, the state Energy Commission has promised to open more hydrogen filling stations for clean-air vehicles in San Diego despite a two-year delay.

The mandate assumes that by 2030 some 5% of vehicles on California’s road will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, a clean technology that generates electricity while producing only water as a byproduct.

But there has been only one hydrogen filling station in San Diego County since the Toyota Mirai was first sold in 2015. With Honda, Hyundai, Audi and others now also offering hydrogen vehicles, and more San Diegans leasing and buying these clean-energy cars, lines are long and drivers are frustrated.

In September 2020, the Energy Commission announced funding under Assembly Bill 8 for four additional hydrogen filling stations in the county. Two years later, none have opened, though one in Mission Valley is nearing completion and expected to be ready in several months.

There are currently 55 hydrogen filling stations open across California, with almost all in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the Bay Area and Sacramento.

San Diego County is the second most populous county in California, with nearly 9% of the state’s residents, yet still has only one hydrogen station. A report in December on station utilization found that San Diego’s single station “has been and continues to operate near capacity.”

Officials with the Energy Commission said San Diego was initially designated an “emerging market” rather than an optimal location for initial adoption of fuel-cell cars. Then development of additional stations “suffered from pandemic related labor shortages, supply chain issues, and COVID-19 shutdowns” as well as local permitting delays.

“Although the region has seen some delays in station rollout, developers continue to pursue plans to support the key market area in and around San Diego,” according to the Energy Commission staff.

The Energy Commission said Californians should not be discouraged from driving fuel-cell cars but advised them to “make sure they do know the fueling options in their area.”

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.