Here’s a shocker: The SC General Assembly slipped a last-minute proviso in the budget earlier this year to pay off a pair of loans that were taken out by the city of Columbia and Aiken County to build hydrogen fueling stations.
The bill for this legislative end-around? Some $1.45 million, according to the South Carolina Policy Council.
“In a last-minute move, legislators slipped a proviso in the FY 09-2010 budget that repaid $1,450,800 taken out by the city of Columbia and Aiken County for the fueling stations,” the Policy Council reports. “That money went to pay off loans originally taken out by the municipalities through the ConserFund, a low-interest program administered by the South Carolina Energy Office.
“But the maneuver was really just a backdoor deal to get more money for one of House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s favorite economic development programs – without coming out and saying the money was for hydrogen transportation research.”
And how many hydrogen-powered vehicles does South Carolina currently have? Two. Well, at least the line at pump won’t be long.
Apparently, this isn’t the first time the legislature has pulled this stunt, either. Last year, the General Assembly appropriated $1.9 million to the Department of Commerce, money Commerce was forced to use to retire the debt on the loan that went to improvements at Donaldson Center Industrial Air Park.
This, despite the fact that while the park itself is owned by the city and the county, it’s home to more than 80 technology and aviation businesses, including Lockheed Martin, 3M Corp. and Michelin.
What’s interesting about the hydrogen payoff is that it doesn’t appear the money should have been dispersed in the first place. The Policy Council reports that it was clear the hydrogen loans didn’t even meet the program’s criteria:
- According to the SC Energy Office’s website, “The Fund is focused on supporting the implementation of energy-efficiency improvements that provide long-term cost reductions.” How a pair of hydrogen fueling stations in a state with just two hydrogen-powered vehicles (and where hydrogen fuel costs considerably more than gas) will provide any cost savings isn’t apparent.
- “Priority is given to energy conservation projects with fast energy-savings paybacks.” Given the cost of hydrogen and the expense associated with the infrastructure necessary to make hydrogen-powered vehicles even remotely feasible, a “fast” energy-savings payback is utterly impossible. Earlier this year, in fact, the Obama administration hesitated in recommending that federal dollars be spent on hydrogen transportation research because the infrastructure is too costly and would take too long to develop – up to 20 years.
- “Repayments are generally calculated so that projected energy savings cover loan payments.” Again, there can be no energy savings when there are essentially no hydrogen-powered vehicles in South Carolina.
The ironic part of the whole scheme was that while legislators were slipping money into the budget on behalf of the city of Columbia and Aiken County, they were also bellyaching that the state was so short of money that teachers were facing mass layoffs and criminals were but a heartbeat from being released back onto the streets.