In its 20-year history, Clean Cities has changed the world of alternative fuels, helping to displace more than 5 billion gallons of petroleum. The program has achieved this success through the work of nearly 100 local coalitions across the country and their thousands of stakeholders on the front lines.
When the Energy Department first established Clean Cities in 1993, many people had never heard of alternative fuels. Today, organizations in the public and private sectors are striving to become more sustainable, the price of oil continues to fluctuate, and the impacts of climate change are growing, making the need for alternative fuels self-evident. “Clean Cities addresses these issues that are increasingly important no matter what your political background is,” said National Clean Cities Director Dennis Smith.
Recognizing the breadth of the energy challenges facing our transportation sector, the Energy Department understood that Clean Cities had to draw on resources beyond the federal government. From the beginning, Clean Cities has established relationships with communities and provided them with the tools to move vehicles off petroleum. Since then, both the coalitions and the alternative fuels markets have matured significantly. “Our Clean Cities coalitions have become world-class organizations,” said National Clean Cities Co-Director Linda Bluestein. “They are beacons in their communities for anything that has to do with clean vehicles and fuels.” Spurred in part by Clean Cities, there are now nearly 200 alternative fuel and hybrid vehicle models on the market and more than 27,000 alternative fueling and charging stations in operation.
Much of Clean Cities’ success derives from its flexibility and adaptability to local needs. “The program is based on the concept that we are helping local communities help themselves,” Smith said. “It’s not just a one-size-fits-all.” Coalitions apply Clean Cities’ tools in unique ways and learn from one another on an on-going basis. In addition to the discussions among coalitions on best practices, the program shares these experiences through videos and case studies.
In particular, the 25 Clean Cities projects across the country supported by $300 million from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have played a special role in Clean Cities’ growth. The funding directly deployed more than 8,000 alternative fuel vehicles and nearly 1,500 fueling and charging stations, but that was only the beginning. “The level of experience coalitions and stakeholders gained in deploying these technologies is unparalleled,” Bluestein said. Based on their experiences with these projects, many organizations are independently investing in alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure. Some have even become passionate advocates, informing other fleets and creating new business models based on alternative fuels. The Recovery Act projects created “the critical mass, the tipping point,” said Smith.
As Clean Cities celebrates its accomplishments, it also looks forward. Aiming to displace more than 2.5 billion gallons of petroleum-based fuel per year by 2020, it continues to find new ways to shift communities and fleets to a more sustainable transportation future.