Whistler’s mayor dreams about driving the Hydrogen Highway 

RMOW takes a closer look at alternative fuel sources south of the border

If Mayor Hugh O’Reilly has his way, there will be a mall in Whistler in the not too distant future.

Unlike most malls however, there would be no T-shirts or jeans or books for sale here, rather a wide selection of high-tech fuels.

O’Reilly wants to build an "energy mall" – a place where you can buy all the traditional fuels like diesel, gasoline and propane, along with a host of clean alternative energy sources like hydrogen, natural gas and hythane (a hydrogen blend).

Whistler’s energy mall would be an important pit stop on the so-called Hydrogen Highway, a proposed roadway with alternative fuelling stations stretching from Whistler through Vancouver and to the U.S. border.

On a recent trip to Los Angeles and Palm Desert in California, O’Reilly and two members of municipal staff saw these energy malls in action, and what they learned inspired them for the future of the Hydrogen Highway in the Sea to Sky corridor.

"We’re this little community of 10,000 (people) that really has no place, we’re not significant," said O’Reilly after his trip.

"What we do offer is all the work we’ve done on our values, our commitment to the TNS (The Natural Step) and our stated commitment to sustainability, which is very attractive to people who want to initiate a new technology or program. You put that into a world class resort, into a community that’s hosting the Olympics, that’s committed to hydrogen, and all of a sudden you’ve got a lot of branding that’s very attractive to people."

What O’Reilly sees is a window of tremendous opportunity for the private sector to showcase their products right here in this small, environmentally committed community.

The whirlwind trip to California began in LA with a tour through the Los Angeles Regional Transit Authority and another transit authority in the suburbs of the city.

Those transit authorities operate more than 2,000 buses combined.

There, diesel is a fuel of the past. Each bus in these fleets runs on natural gas.

Canada by comparison has very few natural gas buses and none of those are in the B.C. Transit fleet.

Brian Barnett, general manager of engineering and public works with the municipality, who was also on the trip, remembers when the first generation of natural gas engines were introduced to the B.C. Transit fleet a couple of years ago.

There were definitely some problems he said.

But now those kinks have been ironed out and the second generation of natural gas engines used in LA are just as reliable as the old diesel engines.

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