Many questions arise when a business decides to switch to an alternative fuel: Which fuel type would be best for your fleet? What infrastructure is available? And most importantly, is there funding or incentives out there that could ease the costs of greening your fleet?
That’s where the Clean Cities project from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) comes in. “Usually when a fleet comes to Clean Cities, they’re looking for information or they’re given an assignment and they don’t know where to start,” says Richard Battersby, coordinator for the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition in California.
The nearly 100 local Clean Cities coalitions are considered “fuel neutral” in that they don’t prefer one type of fuel over another. Instead, they can help fleets analyze which fuel would be best by looking at the vehicles in their fleets, the area of operation and other factors.
UNDERSTANDING THE CLEAN CITIES MISSION
“I would say the No. 1 misconception is that our primary goal is clean air and the environment, but our primary mission at Clean Cities is petroleum reduction,” Battersby says.
Another common misconception is that Clean Cities only works with public fleets and municipalities. But the organization works for any type of fleet — private to public, small to large.
Fleets can approach Clean Cities at any point in their green fleet process, even if they don’t know exactly what they want to do yet. According to Battersby, he typically gets two types of fleets that reach out — the first being fleets still researching that may have misconceptions Clean Cities can help clear up.
Pamela Burns, a coordinator at the Dallas-Fort Worth Clean Cities in Texas, says she’s often finding people in the area assuming there’s a lack of infrastructure for alternative power or fuels. “People are wondering, for example, why we don’t have EV chargers, when really we have more per capita than most areas,” she says.
With tools available on the www.afdc.energy.gov website, Clean Cities can help fleets get through an auditing process to find the fuel use per vehicle, and then take a realistic look at the infrastructure and analyze the findings. “Each fleet’s needs are different, and that’s the fun part, matching that fleet’s needs to a particular solution,” Battersby says.
The second type of fleet knows what fuel type it wants but has begun to see how complicated acquisition can be, particularly when it comes to equipment procurement and pricing. This is really where local Clean Cities coalitions can come in handy, Battersby says. They can provide networking opportunities and local contacts so fleets can see real-life examples in their communities.
Beth Baird, coordinator for Treasure Valley Clean Cities Coalition in Idaho, says that she frequently gets fleets that know which fuel they want to use, but they aren’t sure on the next step or want to make sure they’re getting the best price. To help, she gives fleets contacts for alt-fuel conversion companies and vendors in the area.
Baird also feels that one of her most important roles as a volunteer with Clean Cities is to keep fleets updated about alternative fuels, offers, workshops, etc. “Just providing information is a big deal,” she says.
But across the board, what’s probably the most beneficial aspect to staying up with Clean Cities is how they can connect you to other fleets. For example, public works company Republic Services in Idaho worked with Clean Cities to get a grant for compressed natural gas (CNG) conversions, which included a public fill station. One company that benefitted was Eggers Transportation, a small paratransit fleet that had been looking to convert two Ford E-Series vans to CNG.
Owner Todd Eggers heard through Clean Cities that Republic was working on the grant, so he decided to approach the company. He asked if he could use one of Republic’s private stations in case he got CNG into his fleet before the station was opened. “Using their opportunity, that is really what made it possible for us,” he says.
And now that Eggers looks to grow his transportation company, he’s appreciative that Clean Cities helps him stay on top of auctions and vendor pricing so he can get the best deal on his next acquisition.
It should be noted that while there is a Clean Cities membership fee and associated fees in some cases, a fleet doesn’t have to be a member to use these discussed resources. “We will help anyone regardless,” Battersby says. “It’s a mission, not a business.”
Even other organizations, such as the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), encourage businesses to use Clean Cities as a resource. “We would suggest Clean Cities as an unbiased resource,” says Tucker Perkins, PERC’s chief business development officer, adding that online searches and vendors from particular alternative-fuel sectors often provide misleading information. “Clean Cities does a very credible job of comparing the alt-fuels.”
THE FUNDING REALITIES
Clean Cities coalitions keep track of all federal, state and local grants and incentives available to fleets in their area. Depending on the location, there could be few to multiple grant opportunities throughout the year, so they also keep track of when they’re available and application due dates.
Aside from staying on top of where to get grants, a Clean Cities coalition can help a fleet through the grant-writing process.
Even though the mostly volunteer coalitions are unable to help a fleet through the entire process, the coalition can still help in multiple ways, such as through grant writing workshops, by sharing examples of successful grants, through connections to other grant writers and by connecting multiple fleets together for one grant. “Smaller fleets can look for collaborative opportunities where multiple parties can join together to submit a grant proposal,” Battersby says.
When fleets look at the grant checklist, Battersby adds that all too often they get overwhelmed and decide to not even apply. That’s why having the tools and support necessary are important connections that Clean Cities can make.
“Whatever grant you’re applying for, you have to answer what the potential impact will be,” Battersby says. “Fleet managers may or may not know how to go about doing that, so we at least get them comfortable with the process and help them figure out these calculations as they go down the grant checklist.”