Saanich council meeting as committee of the whole Monday approved plans to bring what would be Vancouver Island’s first hydrogen fuel station to the corner of Quadra Street and McKenzie Avenue.
With Mayor Fred Haynes absent, councillors voted unanimously to amend an existing form and character development permit in allowing an existing service station to add a hydrogen storage and dispenser. They also approved a sign bylaw variance.
Hydrogen Technology and Energy Corporation (HTEC) sees the Saanich site as part of a six-station network spanning Greater Victoria and the Lower Mainland in support of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). FCEVs combine hydrogen and oxygen to create vehicle-powering electricity and supporters of this technology considers FCEVs zero-emission vehicles, since they only emit water vapour.
Saanich staff said in a report to council that the introduction of hydrogen fuel would diversify fuel options for vehicles away from petroleum and towards cleaner, safer options.
The vote happened after councillors heard more than 90 minutes of arguments for and against hydrogen fuel.
Jim Hindson, a spokesperson for Residents of Responsible Renewables, questioned claims hydrogen fuel would mitigate climate change, noting that fracked natural gas represents a common source of hydrogen. Generating hydrogen from water also threatens to increase energy consumption, while using large volumes of water, he added.
Rolf Oetter, a Saanich resident, who has promoted the use of electrical cars, questioned the cost and range of hydrogen vehicles in arguing that hydrogen cars allow big energy companies to maintain their infrastructure assets (like gas stations), which otherwise be lost.
But councillors also heard from some supporters of the project, noting that Saanich’s declaration of climate emergency requires multiple energy sources.
Ned Djilali, a professor at the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at UVic, said no “silver bullet solution” exists when it comes to creating sustainable energy systems.
“Only one thing is clear: the evolving energy system is going to be consisting out of a variety of technologies and a variety of strategies that have to be adapted to local and economic conditions in various jurisdictions,” he said. Speakers opposed to hydrogen have asked many of the right questions, he said. “I’m afraid that many of the answers that they have dug are skewed, and plain false.”
Noting the safe use of hydrogen stations around the world, Djilali said energy systems are evolving, and hydrogen represents a “viable” solution, adding that the Greater Victoria could become a region at technological forefront.
“I would say that the bulk of the information that council had received tonight is not germane to this discussion in any way, shape or form, both actually from the public and from the proponent,” said Paul Thorkelsson, chief administrative officer. This does not mean that the heard information is not important or significant, said Thorkelsson, adding he is not trying to disparage anyone. “It is just not germane to the discussion,” he said.
Coun. Colin Plant echoed this point.
“I’m voting purely on what is in front of us today, and that is all I’m voting on.”