Green Operations

Leveraging Grants to Build a Superb Sustainability Program

January 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

With the advent of new and improved fuel technology, more fleets are taking advantage of alternative fuels and creating greener, more sustainable fleets. But, despite their best efforts (finding alt-fuel vehicles, planning, and gaining leadership buy-in), fleets face a major roadblock: funding.

That’s where grants can help. Although there is certainly time and effort involved in going after grants and implementing programs, grant dollars can go a long way toward building a powerful sustainability program. The City of Riverside, Calif., is one such example.

Building a Well-Rounded Sustainability Program

Today, the City has nearly 300 light-, medium-, and heavy-duty dedicated units that run on a variety of alternative fuels, including propane autogas, compressed natural gas (CNG), electricity, and a hybrid of gasoline and electricity.

It also employs a number of all-electric vehicles, including 57 neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) used in parks, plant maintenance, central stores operations, power generation plants and substations, and six all-electric ZAP pickup trucks for operations in various City departments.

In addition to alt-fuel fleet units, the City has another highly successful enterprise: a publicly accessible alternative-fuel station that dispenses CNG, propane autogas, and hydrogen, and can charge electric vehicles. The station dispenses roughly 97,000 gallons of CNG per month.

Citywide Support & Grant Funds Fuel Growth

Much of the City’s success in establishing a large-scale green fleet is due, in part, to two major factors: citywide support of sustainable initiatives and grant funding.

The "Sustainable Riverside Policy" guides the City in becoming a "clean and green" city, and states that sustainability is a vital and necessary civic goal. Under this overarching vision is a clearly defined goal for the fleet: continue moving its fleet of vehicles to alternative energy, with the goal of limiting the use of gasoline-powered vehicles.

"Since the 1980s, Riverside and its community partners have actively and aggressively adopted programs focused on improving air quality," said Mayor Ronald Loveridge, who is also a long-time member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the California Air Resources Board (CARB). "But, especially in recent years, we have stepped up our efforts through dedicating resources and staff time to specific green initiatives. As such, Riverside has become a recognized leader as a model clean air city."

Building on the City’s support, the fleet’s commitment to greening its operations has also been supported by several grant wins. Since 2006, it has garnered more than $2.1 million in grant money. Some are from federal sources, including the Department of Energy (DOE), American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), Carl Moyer Program, and the Equipment Replacement for Fleet Modernization – Heavy-Duty Trucks. The City also applied and won regional ARRA and DERA (Diesel Emission Reduction Act) funding by partnering with the Western Regional Council of Governments (WRCOG).

And, the City’s continued support was evident in the fleet’s Clean Transportation Funding win, which is part of the MSRC’s (Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee) Local Government Match Program. This program requires matching funds from the local government and a commitment on the City’s part to be awarded funds.

"Because Riverside chose a proactive approach to sustainability, we were able to take early advantage of grant incentives to clean the fleet," said Martin Bowman, fleet operations manager. "Grants for the fuel island and CNG fueling infrastructure, heavy-duty vehicles, off-road vehicles and other incentive funding have greatly reduced the overall cost of greening the fleet."

Envisioning the Future of a Growing Alt-Fuel Fleet

City support and grant funding has paid off for the fleet — and the numbers demonstrate just how powerful this growth has been. Since August 2009, the percentage of alternative-fuel vehicles in the City’s fleet has increased dramatically, with the number of targeted vehicle classes increasing from 53 percent to 72 percent and the percentage of clean vehicles increasing from 69 percent to 89 percent.

Its publicly accessible alternative-fuel station has also grown in popularity. In 2011 alone, it has dispensed 25 percent more CNG, from 73,250 to 97,000 gallons per month.

With CNG at roughly $1.26 per gallon compared to $3.43 for gasoline and $3.81 for diesel, use by Riverside citizens and businesses pumping that fuel alone has increased 59 percent from 28,026 gallons per month in January 2010 to 47,182 gallons per month in January 2011. The increased use of CNG decreases operating costs for both fleet customers and the public.

The City’s use of and infrastructure for all-electric vehicles is scheduled to increase, too. Through a DOE grant, it will receive 11 electric vehicle public charging stations.

"Riverside is one of the top 10 cities preparing for electric vehicles," said Kris Martinez, General Services director. "The positive impact electric vehicles will have on our environment make them a highly anticipated automotive trend. We bought a Chevrolet Volt for use in daily operations as well as community events. Electric vehicles provide clean air, an alternative-fuel source, and a quiet ride, which will reduce noise pollution."

Reaping the Benefits of a Healthy Green Initiative

All of the fleet’s efforts have resulted in cleaner air for the City, and lower fuel-related operating costs. But the accolades don’t stop at the fleet level. The City was designated the first "Emerald City" by the State of California Department of Conservation for its commitment to sustainable green initiatives and renewable energy.

"We are proud of our designation as an Emerald City," Loveridge said. "As part of this pilot project, Riverside has an increased ability to focus on waste reduction, urban design, urban nature, transportation, water, and healthy communities."

Riverside also participated in the International Awards for Livable Community, earning a Silver Award in the "200,000-500,000 population" category. This program focuses on best practices for managing the local environment in 50 countries and is endorsed by the United Nations Environment Program.

Following the Green Lead

While the City has won many grants and earned well-deserved recognition for its sustainability efforts, it has also learned several lessons along the way.

Perhaps the biggest is that, while it’s easy to focus on the present, it’s equally — if not more — important to also look to the future.

"When planning your infrastructure, don’t just look at your current fleet; project for at least 10 years’ future growth and start there," Bowman said. "Current technologies can change and vehicles and equipment will change with them. If you size your infrastructure for at least 10 years of growth, you will spend less time and money having to upgrade every few years. When the next level of technology comes, your proven success in your existing systems will give you a much better chance of being awarded future grants and projects."

Tips for Grant Seekers

For fleets seeking to apply for their first grant or strengthen their current grant-seeking program, Martin Bowman, fleet operations manager for the City of Riverside, Calif., offers these tips:

Secure staff. Applying for — and implementing — grant programs takes manpower, so plan accordingly. "Make sure you are properly staffed to not only prepare grant applications, but to follow through with the requirements of the grant, such as RFP preparation, award and construction, and preparation of all the reporting requirements of the grant," Bowman said.

Think beyond fleet units. A sustainability program is more than just alt-fuel vehicles. "Make sure you have the funding in place to purchase necessary equipment and build the infrastructure you are receiving the grants for," Bowman advised.

Expand the program to the public. "Plan your infrastructure to include fueling capability for the public and local businesses as well," Bowman offered. "This will greatly improve your chances of being awarded grants."

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