Ohio communities get help switching fleets to alternative fuels

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a charging cord is plugged into an electric car behind the rear passenger door

Ohio is one of eight states part of a new project to bring alternative fuels to rural communities.

Drive Clean Rural USA is a U.S. Department of Energy grant funded pilot project aimed at helping county governments analyze how best they can incorporate alternative fuels into their fleets.

The project is a collaborative effort between nonprofits Clean Fuels Ohio and Transportation Energy Partners, and industry partners like Bowman Consulting Group Ltd., a multi-disciplinary engineering firm.

“This project is all about overcoming barriers that rural communities face in transitioning to cleaner fuels and vehicles,” said Transportation Energy Partners Executive Director Ken Brown, in a statement.

The problem

Rural communities are underserved when it comes to access to alternative fuels. In general, they’ve been given less attention by the alternative fuels industry than metro areas, said Brandon Jones, consulting services manager for Clean Fuels Ohio, the standalone nonprofit that advocates for clean fueled vehicles and infrastructure. 

In his work, Jones provides technical assistance to public and private fleets for the adoption of alternative fuel vehicles and associated vehicles like electric vehicles.

Data and research shows that stereotypes are true; rural motorists tend to drive trucks and more heavy duty vehicles, Jones told Farm and Dairy. These types of vehicles aren’t as readily accessible in alternative fuel models, he said.
The transportation energy burden — or the percentage of household income that goes to transportation costs — is much higher in rural areas, particularly in the Appalachian region of Ohio, Jones said.

“What happens there is the lower capital costs of internal combustion engines is more appealing to those who have higher transportation costs,” Jones said. “These are also vehicles that have higher costs for operation and maintenance over the lifetime of their vehicles.”

In contrast, some alternative fuel vehicles, particularly electric vehicles, may have a higher up-front costs but “very low fuel and maintenance costs,” Jones said.

How it works

Drive Clean Rural USA is a three year project that’s rolling out in three phases. The first phase, happening right now, is finding the rural counties that want to be involved, said Michael Ginsberg, vice president of Energy Transition at Bowman Consulting, in a interview with Farm and Dairy.

In Ohio, Jones said they are focusing their outreach efforts in the southeast, eastern and northwest regions.

The selected counties will be announced sometime in June. Then phase two begins. Bowman Consulting and Clean Fuels Ohio will provide free technical assistance to help counties figure out what sort of alternative fuels would work best for them.

For example, for trucks that run on diesel, they usually have the ability to run on biodiesel, Ginsberg said. “So it’s about getting access to the fuel itself.”

Jones said counties will also be able to demo alternative fuel vehicles to try before they buy.

It’s up to the counties to fund and implement the plan. Ginsberg said they want to “achieve both climate goals as well as affordability goals.” There are often opportunities for lower ongoing costs, he said. 

He pointed to Westport, Connecticut, which saved $12,000 over four years by switching to an electric police car. The cost to purchase a Tesla, $52,300, was significantly higher than a Ford Explorer police cruiser, $37,000, reported the Westport News. But the costs to customize, maintain and power the electric vehicle over four years was projected to be less than the Ford.

The third and final phase is to put together a guidebook so other rural communities can assess switching to alternative fuels in their fleets.

The other seven states in the program are Alabama, Indiana, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. The project received $1 million in DOE funding.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at rachel@farmanddairy.com or 800-837-3419.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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