Clean Cities Celebrates 30 Years of Acting Locally To Generate … – NREL

Multiple vehicles in a parking lot with a cityscape in the background.
The Clean Cities Coalition Network is celebrating 30 years of boosting the countrys
economic vitality, energy security, and quality of life by advancing affordable, efficient,
and clean transportation fuels and technologies. More than 75 Clean Cities coalitions
act locally in urban, suburban, and rural communities to help businesses and consumers
meet their climate, financial, and energy goals. Photo from Illinois Alliance for Clean Transportation

Clean transportation technologies are entering the market and hitting the roads faster
than ever with billions of dollars in new investments from the federal government
and private industry.

Recent federal investments include $7.5 billion for a nationwide network of electric vehicle (EV) and alternative fueling infrastructure, as well as more
than $10 billion for clean school and public transit buses. These funds are helping pave the road toward decarbonizing U.S. transportation systems—following
a trail blazed 30 years ago by people devoted to creating a foothold for sustainable

In 30 years, coalition activities eliminated 67 million tons of emissions. Illustration shows trees and sun.
Illustration by Al Hicks, NREL

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established the Clean Cities Coalition Network in 1993 to boost the country’s economic vitality, energy security, and quality of
life by advancing affordable, efficient, and clean transportation fuels and technologies.
Over the past 30 years, coalition activities have saved the equivalent of 13 billion
gallons of gasoline and prevented more than 67 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
Clean Cities coalitions have also helped place more than 1.3 million alternative fuel
vehicles on U.S. roads and establish the charging and fueling infrastructure to serve
this growing market. As a network, coalitions generate national impact by transforming transportation systems at the local level. To make these impacts,
coalitions draw on technical assistance, data, and tools created and maintained by
several of DOE’s national laboratories, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
(NREL), Argonne National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the National
Energy Technology Laboratory.

Today, more than 75 Clean Cities coalitions cover nearly every state and 85% of the
U.S. population and partner with 20,000 public and private stakeholders. Coalitions
act locally in urban, suburban, and rural communities throughout the nation to help
businesses and consumers meet their climate, financial, and energy goals.

Coalitions help businesses and consumers adopt alternative fuel vehicles and advanced transportation technologies. Illustration shows vehicles fueling and charging at a station.
Illustration by Al Hicks, NREL

Approximately 350 people from DOE, national laboratories, Clean Cities coalitions,
and stakeholder organizations gathered in September to celebrate the network’s successes
over the past 30 years. The event highlighted how Clean Cities is a unique federal
effort that has thrived in large part because coalitions are able to customize their
work to fit the local context.

“Coalitions work in their communities to understand local priorities and offer resources
and expertise backed by real-world experience,” said Mark Smith, DOE’s Vehicle Technologies
Office Technology Integration Program manager. “Clean Cities is transforming transportation
by bringing the latest technologies to the streets and providing technical assistance
with lasting results.”

Clean Cities coalitions act locally in urban, suburban, and rural communities to foster the nation’s economic, environmental, and energy security and move our transportation systems into the clean energy future. Illustration shows a urban skyline, suburban neighborhood, and rural farm.
Illustration by Al Hicks, NREL

As technology deployment partners with DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office, coalitions
leverage expertise from federal agencies, national laboratories—including NREL—and
other coalitions. This expertise includes hands-on problem-solving assistance, education
and outreach materials, organizational capacity building, and an array of data and
analysis tools. Coalitions bring these resources directly to the people they serve,
developing community-driven solutions based on a unique understanding of local needs,
opportunities, and markets.

“Coalitions are a trusted, go-to resource for people who want to understand and adopt
clean transportation technologies or alternative fuels,” said NREL’s Margo Melendez,
a transportation technology deployment group manager. “Coalition staff live in the
local regions where they work—they’re rooted in the community—so they know how to
tailor projects to actual on-the-ground needs.”

NREL’s clean transportation deployment experts collaborate with Clean Cities coalitions
by developing unbiased resources and customized, data-driven solutions. For 30 years,
NREL has remained at the forefront of providing critical technical assistance to coalitions
to solve some of the most complex clean transportation challenges. NREL’s direct involvement
in technology deployment makes the laboratory a key partner in bringing knowledge
of on-the-ground efforts to DOE and other federal agencies.

In addition to providing hands-on technical assistance, NREL produces and maintains a comprehensive suite of online resources and tools
informed by deep relationships with coalitions and industry to accelerate deployment.
These include the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), which provides objective information about more than a dozen alternative
fuels and technologies, as well as analysis tools, a database of transportation-related
laws and incentives, and maps and data of alternative fuel and vehicle trends. The
AFDC also houses the Alternative Fueling Station Locator, which allows users to find alternative fueling stations in the United States and
Canada. In the past 12 months, people have viewed the station locator more than 7.6
million times, and it is the definitive data source for measuring the growth of EV
charging stations.

Commitment to Community

“The NREL team strives to be responsive, adaptive, and flexible to coalition needs,”
said Kaylyn Bopp, a transportation project leader at NREL. “We are their partners,
so we work alongside them to identify how the lab’s expertise can increase coalition

For example, NREL collaborated with Kansas City Regional Clean Cities to enhance the coalition’s work with community-based organizations and develop strategies
for incorporating community engagement into their project planning processes. With
NREL’s guidance, the coalition gathered feedback from local organizations on how to
best involve them in clean transportation projects, including compensating them for
their time and keeping them informed of transportation efforts even if the organization
was not directly involved.

“Through these conversations, the coalition now has better strategies for developing
projects that are driven by community choices and needs,” Bopp said. “They also built
stronger ties to community-based organizations that will greatly benefit future projects.”

Engaging with local organizations to co-develop projects can help maximize the benefits
of clean transportation investments by aligning efforts with real, on-the-ground needs.
With 30 years of experience fostering relationships with both federal agencies and
local partners, coalitions are uniquely positioned to build bridges between national
priorities and local needs.

Clean Cities coalitions can also apply their relationship-building expertise to help
ensure the recent unprecedented federal investments in clean transportation reach
underserved and overburdened communities.

“Community engagement helps elevate the voices of members of marginalized communities
who have historically lacked the political power and economic capital to influence
decision-making,” said Erin Nobler, a transportation project leader at NREL.

Incorporating community-driven choices improves equitable access to advanced transportation. Illustration shows group of people with diversity in age, race, size, and ability.
Illustration by Al Hicks, NREL

NREL is collaborating with DOE and Argonne National Laboratory to build the capacity
of Clean Cities coalitions to put federal energy and environmental justice priorities into practice by taking a community-first approach to developing clean transportation projects.
Coalitions received training and resources on community engagement best practices,
historical transportation inequities, and metrics to evaluate project impacts, as
well as other equity-related topics. Seventeen coalitions are receiving training and
DOE funding to hire community engagement liaisons to further their work locally as
part of a pilot effort.

This work aligns with the federal Justice40 Initiative, which reflects a commitment to securing environmental justice and spurring economic
opportunity for disadvantaged communities that have been historically marginalized
and overburdened by pollution and underinvestment in housing, transportation, water
and wastewater infrastructure, and health care.

“Clean Cities coalitions can put federal equity priorities into practice by leveraging
their community connections, enabling national priorities to manifest at a local level,”
Nobler said. “Coalitions also relay knowledge and insights from their local context
to inform national efforts and priorities.”

Model for Collaborative Technology Deployment

The innovative model built over the past 30 years by Clean Cities serves as a framework for how federal programs can successfully deploy new technologies
by intertwining national goals and initiatives with local, community-based actions.
An NREL report, “Clean Cities: A Model of Collaborative Technology Innovation Built Over 30 Years,” documents how the network successfully deploys new technologies through long-term,
multidirectional stakeholder engagement.

“Clean Cities centers the knowledge, expertise, and vision of local communities,”
said Marcy Rood, a principal environmental analyst at Argonne National Laboratory
who provides support to coalitions. “Others can learn from the network’s 30 years
of experience how to design community-centered solutions that align national objectives
with local goals and visions.”

The long-standing success of Clean Cities as a technology deployment model is also
being leveraged by more recent federal efforts, including Clean Energy to Communities (C2C), a new DOE program that helps local governments, tribes, electric utilities,
and community-based organizations set and meet their clean energy goals. C2C leverages
the latest set of advanced capabilities from national laboratories, including NREL,
as well as community engagement and peer-learning strategies. Under NREL’s leadership,
Clean Cities coalitions will support communities participating in C2C offerings by
leveraging the transportation technology deployment and partnership-building expertise
within the Clean Cities Coalition Network.

Everything began in 1993 with six coalitions, and over the next 30 years Clean Cities
built bipartisan support and established a presence in nearly every state. Today,
coalitions work in communities large and small throughout the country to generate
a compounding impact nationwide—far beyond what any single organization could accomplish
on its own.

“Coalitions are advancing U.S. energy independence and reducing vehicle emissions
while supporting regional economic development and job growth,” Smith said. “Their
deep connections, expertise, and skills at relationship building are crucial as we
continue to move transportation into the clean energy future.”

30 Years of Clean Transportation Deployment Projects

Explore projects highlighting how Clean Cities coalitions act in local communities throughout the

Map of the United States with pins for each Clean Cities coalition.
Coalitions combine their collective experiences and knowledge to advance our nation’s
transportation system far beyond what any single organization could accomplish on
its own. Explore projects illustrating how coalitions work in communities large and
small to generate a compounding impact nationwide. Illustration by Elizabeth Stone, NREL

High School Program Creates Pathway Into Zero-Emissions Vehicle Careers

Frame of a go-cart style vehicle with students in the background
Nearly 3,000 high school students from underserved communities throughout California
have received training to prepare them for careers in the clean fuels industry. Photo from Long Beach Clean Cities

Long Beach Clean Cities‘ High School Pilot Project connects students in underserved communities throughout
California with programs that prepare the next generation for careers in the clean
fuels industry. A $3.5 million grant provided funding for 51 high schools to purchase
equipment and tools, train educators, and implement classes on zero-emission vehicle
maintenance and manufacturing. Approximately 2,700 high school students have participated
in these classes, and many students gain additional experience through internships
and job placements that provide direct opportunities to work with zero-emission vehicles.
The students, many of whom live in multigenerational homes where English is not the
first language, also bring their knowledge back to their communities and raise awareness
about all-electric and hybrid vehicles.

High School Students Produce Biodiesel

Pick-up truck fueling from tank
Students in St. Louis produce biodiesel to power a school-owned truck and sell the
remaining fuel to Washington University. Photo from St. Louis Clean Cities

St. Louis Clean Cities partnered with Rockwood Summit High School to teach students about the biochemistry
and production of biodiesel. Students produce biodiesel that powers a school-owned
truck, and the remaining product is sold to Washington University. Students also turn
residual glycerin into soap. They go on to conduct outreach and education, including
hosting a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) event at the school and
participating in auto shows to educate others. Their efforts have been rewarded with
scholarships, including presidential scholarships awarded to two students.

More Than 20 School Districts Choose Propane School Buses

School buses parked next to propane fuel tank.
Clean Cities coalitions in Pennsylvania work with school districts throughout their
state to replace diesel school buses with propane-fueled buses. Photo from Eastern Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Transportation

Eastern Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Transportation and Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities worked with more than 20 school districts throughout Pennsylvania to deploy approximately
1,000 propane-fueled school buses, making the state third in the nation for the number
of alternative fuel buses on the road. Thousands of students have ridden these buses
in the five years since they were deployed. The Clean Cities coalitions continue to
educate fleets on the benefits of propane school buses, and the increased visibility
of the buses operating in other districts and opportunities to ride them are helping
to spur further adoption. To provide these opportunities, the coalitions hold ride
and drives, as well as workshops on funding opportunities, propane bus technology,
operations, and maintenance. They find continued interest in propane school buses
as a beneficial solution for districts looking to replace their diesel buses.

Running the Rails on Liquefied Natural Gas

Train locomotive on track in railyard
Florida East Coast Railroad converted train locomotives to run on liquefied natural
gas instead of diesel, reducing carbon outputs by 25% and saving $2 million in annual
operation costs. Photo from North Florida Clean Fuels Coalition

North Florida Clean Fuels Coalition funded the Florida East Coast Railroad for a pilot project converting locomotives
to liquefied natural gas (LNG), and the success of the pilot led to a full rollout
to 40 locomotives. The railroad replaced about 80% of the train’s diesel fuel with
LNG, resulting in a 25% reduction in carbon output, 40% reduction in sulfur output,
and a $2 million reduction in annual operation costs. This project provided benefits
directly to Florida residents and visitors—the Florida East Coast Railroad operates
only within Florida, with its terminus in the Jacksonville area. This investment was
part of over $5 million that North Florida Clean Fuels Coalition invested in alternative
fuels and infrastructure improvements since the coalition’s designation in 2016.

Tribe Deploys First Electric School Bus in North Carolina

School buses with hoods open and people in the foreground
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians deployed the first electric school bus in North
Carolina and celebrated the arrival of the new vehicle with a drag racing event where
the chief drove the electric bus in competition with a diesel bus. Photo from Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians deployed the first electric school bus in North
Carolina, in partnership with the Cherokee Boys Club and additional partners secured
by Land of Sky Clean Vehicles Coalition. This project was driven by the tribe’s respect for the land, the people, the mountains,
and the air, and their desire to find new ways to be good stewards of their resources.
The tribe purchased the bus using Volkswagen Settlement funds, and project partners
celebrated the arrival of the new vehicle with a drag racing event where the chief
drove an electric school bus against a diesel counterpart—winning most of the races
that day. Representatives from six other school districts also attended the event
to experience the potential of new transportation technologies. Land of Sky Clean
Vehicles Coalition leveraged that opportunity to listen and learn more about the perceived
barriers to electric bus adoption and how the Clean Cities coalition can continue
to serve as conveners and help close technology and funding gaps for future projects.

Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Expands in Rural Virginia

Electric vehicle charging at a station in a rural town.
A project to deploy electric vehicle chargers in rural and underserved communities
throughout Virginia fills gaps in charging infrastructure and helps ensure no one
is left behind in the transition to electrified transportation. Photo from Virginia Clean Cities

Virginia Clean Cities, as part of the Mid-Atlantic Electrification Partnership, installed 375 electric
vehicle (EV) chargers to provide access to charging in rural and underserved communities.
This project works with communities throughout Virginia, the District of Columbia,
Maryland, and West Virginia to identify and fill gaps in charging infrastructure.
Partnership representatives engage with local entities to learn about their EV charging
needs and goals, including fee structures, dwell time, and projected future demand.
Communities are reporting that public chargers are being consistently used, and additional
chargers are being installed to meet growing demand. By taking a community-forward
approach and focusing on rural and underserved areas, Virginia Clean Cities is helping
ensure no one is left behind in the transition to electrified transportation.

Learn more about NREL’s sustainable transportation and mobility research. And sign up for NREL’s quarterly transportation and mobility research newsletter, Sustainable Mobility Matters, to get the latest news.


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