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Hydrogen Fuels Power Broker's New Venture

Ex-DWP chief leaves a state energy agency for a firm that aims to alter SUVs to burn cleaner.

October 24, 2003|Nancy Rivera Brooks | Times Staff Writer

S. David Freeman, the cowboy-hat-wearing former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, has made a career out of wrangling electrons.

Now Freeman has set his sights on gas guzzlers -- including Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger's Hummer.

Freeman said Thursday that he would resign today from the board of the Consumer Power and Conservation Financing Authority, the official name of the agency better known as the California Power Authority, which was born during the energy crisis to help finance power plants. Freeman, 77, said he would join two partners in a start-up that plans to alter conventional sport utility vehicles and other big gasoline gulpers so that they can operate on environmentally friendly hydrogen.

Called Hydrogen Car Co., the Los Angeles-based company has put in a bid to help Schwarzenegger live up to his campaign promise that he would retrofit his Hummer for hydrogen. The company has other projects in the works, Freeman said, including one in Iceland.

"I'm like a kid with a new toy," Freeman said. "I've done my work in Sacramento."

Freeman, who spent five decades at electric and water utilities, took leave from the DWP in January 2001 to advise Gov. Gray Davis on energy matters and to negotiate long-term electricity contracts for the state. The following August, Freeman was tapped to head the new state power agency.

Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating the Power Authority, reasoning that it could discourage private plant builders that don't have access to the low interest rates that a government agency does.

Freeman said his potential client shouldn't unplug the authority. "We've got a small, lean, capable organization that is sitting there like a backup generator," he said. "We've been very careful not to compete with private industry" in building power plants.

If Freeman has his way, his company will be doing the eliminating -- decreasing pollution and dependence on foreign oil by increasing hydrogen use.

"We're going to turn people with SUVs from gas guzzlers into environmentally sensitive patriots," Freeman said. "I like to say let the SOBs have their SUVs as long as they run on hydrogen."

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