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Community Coalitions Build National Clean Transport Network

The American brand Jeep dramatizes the introduction of its Jeep 4xe, a plug-in hybrid electric SUV, to engage attendees at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show, February 11, 2023, McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois. (Photo courtesy Chicago Auto Show) Posted for media use
By Sunny Lewis

GOLDEN, Colorado, June 12, 2023 ( Sustainability News) – The multitude of nongovernmental organisations throughout the world working toward climate stability can take heart – coalition-building is proving to be a successful and exciting strategy for motivating action on a national level. 

A new report from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), “Clean Cities: A Model of Collaborative Technology Innovation Built Over 30 Years,” tells the story of Clean Cities, documenting how and why the success of Clean Cities can serve as a model for programs across the United States and in any other country or region where collaboration is possible.

Clean Cities is a collaboration of more than 75 coalitions in nearly every U.S. state that works to advance the adoption of affordable, efficient, and clean transportation fuels and technologies across the nation.

As the technology deployment arm of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, Clean Cities operates within a framework of collaborative governance, leveraging expertise from federal agencies, national laboratories, and coalitions. 

Government involvement can help to successfully deploy new technologies through “long-term, multidirectional stakeholder engagement,” NREL reports. 

A project that raised awareness and acceptance of electric vehicles across the American Midwest demonstrates how this level of collaboration enhances the impact of new technology

Leaders from Clean Cities coalitions in seven Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin; joined forces to form Midwest Electric Vehicle Opportunities: Learning, eVents, Experience (Midwest EVOLVE), in 2017. 

By the time Midwest EVOLVE published its report in 2020, the project had reached more than 290,000 people and helped change the narrative about EVs in the reluctant Midwest. 

There were large-scale ride-and-drive events coupled with a formal educational components that were part of large events such as the Twin Cities Auto Show, Chicago Auto Show, and National Drive Electric Week. Participating electric vehicles included the BMW i3, Chevy Bolt, Chrysler PHEV Pacifica, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi PHEV Outlander, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Models S, X and 3, among others.

Survey data collected by the project partners showed that 75 percent of people reached by Midwest EVOLVE took the next step of visiting a dealership or talking to someone else to consider EVs more closely. Twenty-two percent of respondents said they ultimately purchased an EV, while 73 percent at least expected to eventually purchase an EV.

Building a Functioning Coalition

Involving 85 percent of the U.S. population in communities of all kinds – urban, suburban, and rural – the Clean Cities coalitions provide resources and technical guidance to local decision makers and fleets on alternative and renewable fuels, electric vehicles, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements, new mobility choices, and emerging transportation technologies.

November 15, 2022 – Michael Berube, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Sustainable Transportation at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) takes part in a Q&A panel discussion during the 2022 Clean Cities Training Workshop at the Sheraton Denver West in Lakewood, Colorado. (Photo by Werner Slocum / NREL)

“Clean Cities has thrived for 30 years in part because it is so collaborative and leverages relationships among public, civic society, and private sector entities at the local, state, and national levels,” said Dr. Paty Romero-Lankao, a senior research scientist and interdisciplinary sociologist at NREL who co-authored the report. “These collaborations are highly intensive while still preserving the autonomy of the individual coalitions.”

Each coalition receives national-level support but remains semi-autonomous and makes independent strategic and programmatic decisions in response to local needs and market shifts.

“Coalition staff are typically hired by and from the community they serve, so they have knowledge of the local area and experience with local transportation systems,” Romero-Lankao explained. “This helps foster local trust, allowing coalitions to build bridges between DOE, national labs, and transportation stakeholders.”

“Coalitions can connect with networks and communities where national entities often cannot directly engage,” she said.

Building trust at the local level creates a sense of shared motivations and can help overcome competing local and national interests – a perpetual challenge for national-level environmental efforts, the report points out. 

Some of the coalitions connect stakeholders across vast expanses of geography. For instance, the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities (CWCC) coalition in the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington has attracted the Nebraska Corn Board from the central Midwest as a member.

Jeff Wilkerson, director of market development at the Nebraska Corn Board, said, “Our membership in CWCC has opened the door for us to meet new partners and subject matter experts we would’ve never been able to interact with on our own. CWCC’s virtual events have effectively shortened the distance between Nebraska and the West Coast by personally connecting us with fleet managers and policy personnel who share the same goal of decarbonizing liquid fuels.”

In August, the Columbia-Willamette Clean Cities coalition will put on a Green Transportation Summit & Expo featuring 40 electric vehicles, 60 virtual tech talks, 70 industry booths and many special events. It’s on August 22-24 at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center, in the city of Tacoma, Washington.

National Support for Local Efforts Grows

Federal coordination, such as that offered by national laboratories, enhances the capacity of local stakeholders, who otherwise would lack authority or access to initiate the types of large-scale collaborations that generate widespread impact.

“Clean Cities is required by federal law to be technology and fuel neutral, meaning it can’t advocate for a specific technology or fuel,” said Wendy Dafoe, a Clean Cities senior project leader at NREL. “This helps coalitions remain relevant wherever they are located, because they create solutions that make sense for their local communities.”

Clean Cities engages in broad coordination and leverages internal expertise to advance high-level goals and strategies. Coalitions share local insights, data, and experiences with national laboratories and DOE to improve national data sets, resources, and technical response capabilities. 

The NREL report shows how national laboratories have proactively developed this community of collaboration over three decades by creating opportunities for ongoing relationship building. 

They now operate a peer-to-peer mentorship program, in-person workshops for coalition staff, virtual working groups, and produce outreach materials that support consistent messaging among all coalitions.

For instance, a coalition known as the Mid-Atlantic Electrification Partnership (M.A.E.P.) has attracted  $14.6 million in funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy for a project designed to create a regional EV ecosystem in the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia; Maryland; Virginia; and West Virginia. It will connect the Mid-Atlantic Region’s cities through EV infrastructure sub-projects including multimodal hubs such as airports, seaports, and logistics centers. It will also address educational, planning, and equity issues of populations near these hubs.

Right now, drivers resident in the region can request a public Level 2 EV Charging Station in their neighborhoods. Click here to make a request. The coalition’s goal is to install approximately 200 EV charging units over three years through 2024.

This collaborative method of operation fosters multilateral relationships with coalitions, providing lab staff with community-based insights to help ensure their research addresses real-world transportation needs and priorities, and also to help ensure that research and funding align.

To Get Involved

To learn more about a coalition, contact the director of that coalition from this list provided by the Dept of Energy

Subject matter experts connect coalitions with experts and objective problem-solving support to help stakeholders overcome obstacles to deploying advanced transportation technologies and alternative fuels.

Participants are encouraged to remain flexible and adapt to emerging technologies, circumstances, and needs so that they can empower coalitions to customize approaches based on local contexts and priorities for deploying new transportation technologies.

Energy and environmental justice considerations, a Biden Administration priority, are woven throughout the entire effort to develop clean transportation solutions that meet community-identified needs and increase mobility equity in historically underserved and overburdened communities. 

The success of Clean Cities as a collaborative technology deployment model is being adopted by more recent U.S. federal efforts, including Clean Energy to Communities (C2C), a new Dept. of Energy program that helps local governments, tribes, electric utilities, and community-based organizations set and meet their clean energy goals.