The U.S. Department of Energy just announced that it will provide $300 million in stimulus funds to 25 projects aimed at putting 9,000 more alternative-fuel vehicles on America’s roads, and building the infrastructure needed to power them, including 542 fueling and charging stations across the country. All told, these projects — now under the banner of the DOE’s long-standing “Clean Cities” program — could cut petroleum use by up to 38 million gallons a year — that’s nearly 1 million barrels of oil.
The bulk of the funding will be used to accelerate adoption of hybrids, electric vehicles and plug-in electric hybrids, as well as natural gas and biofuel-powered vehicles. The refueling stations included in the plan will be designed to power cars running on natural gas, propane, biodiesel, ethanol and, of course, electricity. In order to receive the money, each of the projects named had to raise twice the matching funds, allowing for more capital-intensive projects.
Instead of awarding money to companies tackling these areas, the DOE is funding local government organizations charged with greening transportation in their jurisdictions. It is also encouraging recipients to introduce fleets of advanced vehicles with industry partners in order to spur eventual commercial adoption. For example, the San Bernadino Associated Governments‘ were awarded $9.95 million to add 262 natural gas-powered heavy-duty trucks with the help of transportation vendor J.B. Hunt. The Maryland Energy Administration received $5.9 million to fund the purchase of 150 hybrid-electric trucks for use by Nestle and UPS among others. And the City of Chicago’s Department of Environment will add 554 alternative fuel and hybrid electric vehicles to the city with nearly $15 million from the DOE. You can see a full list of the funded projects here (the majority of them rely on natural gas).
The strategy empowers local governments to support the projects that make the most sense for the region — a fairly novel concept. Municipalities are also among the largest owners of fleet vehicles, which, once converted, would allow the technology to spread faster than it might otherwise. So far, the stimulus money earmarked for the cleantech sector has been handed out directly to businesses, including the $2.4 billion it distributed to 48 advanced battery and transportation companies less than a month ago.
The Clean Cities program is not a creation of the stimulus package. Kicked off 15 years ago, its goal has always been to cut the country’s petroleum consumption in transportation. It actually spawned the creation of several of the local government groups receiving the recent financing, including the Utah Clean Cities Coaltion and the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition. There are more than 90 groups total, achieving various levels of activity throughout the years. Vice president Joe Biden originally announced the $300 million initiative for advanced vehicles back in April.