Local governments from across the Southeast came together to share solutions and resources that will help electrify transportation in their communities. Their dedication and collaboration are an example of the Clean Energy Generation in action.Amy Rawe | September 26, 2023
If you had any doubt that the clean energy transition is underway in towns and cities throughout the Southeast, listening in on a recent gathering of local government leaders would change your mind.
Representatives from 38 cities and towns throughout the Southeast gathered on September 14 and 15 in Savannah for the Electrify the South Collaborative, facilitated by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) and Southeast Sustainability Directors Network (SSDN) and made possible by a generous Movement Infrastructure Grant from Mosaic.
In a forthcoming blog, Dory Larsen, SACE’s Senior Electric Transportation Program Manager, will provide a breakdown of data and information from the Collaborative, but the immediate and clear takeaway from the event is that the clean energy transition is indeed accelerating in communities throughout the Southeast. The support and collective problem-solving seen between local governments during this Collaborative is a prime example of what the Clean Energy Generation movement is all about.
These Collaborative participants are on the front lines of defining and implementing climate and clean energy action plans in their communities. They are sustainability directors, town managers and city council members, elected officials, public works directors, fleet managers, finance staff, and municipal leaders in various roles. They represent a diverse range of communities — rural and urban, small towns and large cities. Some of their communities are just beginning to define their plans for transportation electrification, while others are on their way to becoming 100% Clean Energy communities. They all came to learn new strategies to electrify transportation in their fleets and in their communities. Their efforts to plan for and implement clean energy technologies are a cornerstone for creating smarter-powered towns and cities to reduce harmful climate pollution.
For two days, they identified challenges and opportunities and shared solutions and resources toward a common goal — to learn how to access and implement federal electric transportation funding available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). By strategizing ways to prioritize placing safe, healthy, and equitable communities front and center in present-day decisions, the city and town leaders at the Collaborative exemplified how local governments can work together to create impactful change as the Clean Energy Generation.
“Before coming to the Collaborative I didn’t know where to start. But learning about what other cities and counties are doing and what resources are available is inspiring and invigorating. Electrifying transportation is where we’re headed. Our county is just at the beginning, but now I see what can be done when we’re in a position to make those changes.”
BIL & IRA Opportunities
Stan Cross, SACE’s Electric Transportation Policy Director, once joked that “BIL and IRA” sounded like a nice older couple. In that light, BIL and IRA are wise investors unleashing historical resources into climate actions and clean energy via investment in infrastructure and our communities. These federal resources are creating opportunities to transform how the U.S. produces and consumes energy by investing in American energy supply chains, clean energy job creation, emissions reduction, and consumer energy savings.
BIL and IRA are already creating significant impacts, and there are now tangible opportunities for local governments to advance electric transportation through federal grants or tax credits. However, knowing how to apply for and prepare to implement the funding requires significant time and knowledge. The Electrify the South Collaborative was a kickoff event to help local governments best position themselves and the region to leverage federal funds and achieve electric transportation goals.
“I realize that there are far more funding and collaborative opportunities available as our City moves towards expanding our EV infrastructure.”
Federal and state government panelists shared information to equip local governments with the knowledge, tools, and technical assistance to apply directly for federal funding and to influence state formula funding planning and implementation. The information that attendees also shared through Q&A sessions and small-group conversations over the two days was equally informative and inspiring, collaborative in every sense.
Those who attended shared their needs and challenges with electrifying municipal transportation; and worked together to problem-solve solutions. Business cards and contact information were exchanged frequently, often shared with words along the lines of, “I have a resource that can help you with that,” or “I’ll share what didn’t work for us so you can avoid that.”
“As a municipality, it was great to hear that we are not alone in our struggles with transportation electrification. It was clear that most of us share more commonalities than differences when it comes to this topic, and my takeaway is that we can find solutions if we think creatively and leverage our networks.”
The peer-to-peer learning will better position the region to advance electric transportation goals, and make it more likely that rural and urban communities in the Southeast will capture a proportional share of federal investments. The recently released fourth annual “Transportation Electrification in the Southeast” report, published by SACE in collaboration with Atlas Public Policy, shows that over the past 12 months, our region has accessed federal funds totaling $234 million for electric transit buses, $172 million for electric school buses, and $3 million in EV-related research and development grants, and awarded $169 million in VW Settlement funds. The total amount of federal transportation electrification funding allocated to date is $741 million, which could be dwarfed over the coming years if the region is successful at drawing down the massive amount of funding being made available through the growing list of the BIL and IRA programs.
Ongoing Collaboration and Support
Local governments that were unable to participate in Savannah are encouraged to participate in two upcoming virtual Collaborative meetings that will follow up on information shared during the September event. The first virtual meeting will be on November 30 at noon, registration information to be announced soon. SACE and SSDN will also continue to gather and share information about funding opportunities, technical assistance resources, and municipal best practices and successes.
It was invigorating and encouraging to see people rolling up their sleeves and digging into complex technology, logistics, and social issues that will make our world a better place, one community at a time. Their dedicated collaboration is an inspiring example of the Clean Energy Generation in action.