Orinda’s 76 Station to Feature County’s Second Hydrogen Fueling Pump

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(Andrea Madison, Photographer)
The Orinda Union 76 gas station, located at 67 Moraga Way, is set to join FirstElement Fuel, Inc.’s current operating network of 11 hydrogen-fueling stations in the Bay Area.

    On Aug. 9, Orinda Planning Commission voted to approve a project proposing the addition of an above ground hydrogen-fueling tank to the city’s Union 76 Station, located at 67 Moraga Way.
    The new tank and equipment are set to replace eight parking spaces on the property. The update will also feature a new canopy with increased height to allow for hydrogen refueling trucks.
    While the height of the new station canopy will be higher than the existing structure, its area will remain the same, according to a condition of approval named in the recent planning commission staff report. The canopy will also be free from illuminated signage and edges, with the new signage remaining the same size as the current one.
    Fuel company FirstElement “have their big picture approval” for the placement of a hydrogen-fueling tank at the gas station, said Planning Director Drummond Buckley. The remaining details, including a building permit, will be handled through the building department and “maybe some state agencies,” he explained.
    “We consider it to be an expansion of the existing gas station. As such, it requires a commercial use permit,” Buckley said.
    The Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) approved the proposed facility in Nov. 2021, and the city building department will further review for compliance with the California Building Code.
    Specific conditions for the project outlined by the planning commission include the requirement that onsite parking spaces only remain available to station customers and the specific mandate that a neutral color be assigned to the wall surrounding the hydrogen tank on the property. The planning commission, however, did not approve the applicant’s proposal of an artificial boxwood mat application to the wall around the hydrogen tank.
    Also included in the planning commission staff report is the applicant’s proposal of street trees along the Moraga Way frontage, which would require approval from the city’s public works department.
    The City of Orinda received an application from the gas station owner and FirstElement for the addition in Dec. 2020, with the initial vent stack height exceeding the Downtown Commercial (DC) maximum building height of 35 feet and subsequently being reduced for compliance.
    Existing setback exceptions for the new canopy and tank will remain in place, as only the height of the structure will be increased to allow for hydrogen fueling vehicles.
    “We always look at the community first,” said Dr. Shane Stephens, principal and chief development officer of FirstElement Fuel, Inc.
    A founder of the True Zero fuel brand along with Joel Ewanick and Tim Brown, Stephens said the fuel company searches throughout the state for “good early adopter communities,” noting that Orinda possesses that quality with its population size and growth. Orinda’s status as a commuter city also factored into the decision to pursue a hydrogen-fueling station in the city, said Stephens.
    FirstElement Fuel, Inc., owner of the True Zero hydrogen fuel brand, was founded in 2013 and has partnered with the State of California and auto manufacturers Honda and Toyota to develop its fuel network. Its first station opened in late 2015. FirstElement’s network includes 11 operating Bay Area hydrogen-fueling stations with two under construction in the South Bay.
    While allowing people to gain access to True Zero hydrogen fuel across the state’s metropolitan areas is the company’s goal, another is “to build a statewide network that allows fuel cell vehicle customers to drive seamlessly throughout California,” according to their 
website.
    The State of California and automakers collaborate with state agencies to identify adopter communities, said FirstElement’s Stephens. FirstElement, in the beginning of their development, targeted the Bay Area.
    The by-product from hydrogen consumption in a fuel cell vehicle is water vapor, “with zero harmful emissions,” as explained on the True Zero website. The fuel is also produced entirely from domestic resources.
    According to Stephens, there are around 14,000 hydrogen-powered cars in California, with roughly 60% of them in Southern California and 40% in the Bay Area.
    The overall process of the hydrogen tank project has been “smooth,” Stephens said, while also acknowledging that it has taken a lot of work behind the scenes to get the project ready.
    “The City of Orinda has been fantastic to work with,” said Stephens.

Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

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