By Stephen Smoot
One of the highlights of the Region 8 Planning and Development Council meeting last week came from Doug Pixler, Potomac Valley Transportation Authority executive director. He shared with the council PVTA’s proposed participation in a next generation fuels project.
At a recent Town of Franklin meeting, councilman Bruce Minor informed the gathering about the inability of electric vehicles to effectively navigate mountain roads or perform in cold weather. Pixler agreed in his presentation, stating that “EVs are just not the way to go,” adding that the time required to charge buses would require PVTA to double its fleet to sustain current operations.
Suzanne Park, who heads communications for PVTA said, “It’s not something we’re wanting to do for fun.” She stated that “a Biden Administration directive says that by 2035-2040 all heavy-duty vehicles need to be at zero emissions” and that the federal government is pursuing “multiple options.” Park then reiterated, “it’s a federal directive, at least for now.”
The directive has made it more difficult to get diesel fuel powered buses and, according to Park, fuel costs have risen from 14 to 30% of the budget. Pixler added that “it does make sense to produce our own energy to move our buses around.”
Some shared concerns about the safety of hydrogen fuel, referring to the 1937 Hindenburg zeppelin crash and explosion. Pixler responded by saying that today, “hydrogen is less dangerous than fueling with gasoline.”
Hydrogen would be produced using a solar array to power equipment to separate hydrogen from water molecules. When hydrogen fuel is used to power engines, it creates a byproduct of water. Two years ago, CNN reported on a California company called Hyperion. Its prototype hydrogen cell sports car “ran 1,000 miles on one tank of compressed hydrogen and can go from zero to 60 miles per hour in two seconds.”
Pixler said after the presentation that the hydrogen hub could eventually serve local government fleet vehicles, including emergency responders.
Funding would come from a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, or RAISE, grant. The first grant has requested $5 million for the design phase. PVTA would request $10-15 million more for construction. According to the US Department of Transportation, the RAISE grants help “counties . . . complete critical freight and passenger transportation infrastructure projects.” Funding nationally will be split between urban and rural projects.
Region 8 agreed to provide a letter of support for the project with one dissenting vote.
Terry Lively, Region 8 executive director, then shared that while the Hazard Mitigation Planning Grant application has been approved, the state will not cover the match expected from Region 8. The match is approximately $28,000, of which Region 8 can cover $8,000. Lively proposed that Region 8 request municipalities for $1,000 and county commissions $1,500 to make up the difference.
Bob Hott, Hampshire County commissioner, asked “why won’t the state do the match?” Lively responded, “I have no answer for that,” but said that he would ask for a waiver, though he did not expect to get one. “Region 7 is doing what I’m proposing,” he added. Lynn Phillips, area representative from the office of Governor Jim Justice, said that he would bring the matter to the Governor’s attention.
Hott also said that “I don’t know why we have to do this now. We’ve never had to do this before.” Frank Wehrle, Town of Franklin administrator, said that though he did not expect that his council would like it, he moved to support Lively’s proposal, which passed.
The Region 8 Council also named its budget committee, with Carl Hevener, Pendleton County Commission president representing his county. William Bean of Moorefield, who has served as treasurer for 25 years, submitted his resignation. The council agreed to appoint as his replacement Scotty Miley, Grant County commissioner and loan officer at Grant County Bank.