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Obama Administration to Fund EV Readiness in 30 Communities

RMI’s Project Get Ready partner cities have already made significant strides

On the heels of President Obama’s reiteration of his 2008 goal to put more than 1 million plug-in cars on the road by 2015, Vice President Joe Biden announced a three-part plan to make this commitment a reality and advance the development of electric vehicles (EVs) nationwide.

Biden laid out the administration’s strategy to nearly double its vehicle research budget to $590 million and make EVs more affordable by transforming the $7,500 tax credit to a point-of-sale rebate. This reflects the administration’s most significant effort to jumpstart the electric vehicle industry since $2.4 billion in grants in August 2009 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Most notable is a proposal for a competitive grant program offering 30 communities up to $10 million each to become early adopters of EVs and ramp up infrastructure investments.

Luckily, some U.S. cities have had a significant head start, due to initiatives like Project Get Ready and others that connect communities to put them on the EV planning fast track.

"Thanks to big investments by automakers and local leaders, we’ve helped drive significant advancements in EV readiness in more than a dozen cities across the U.S.," said Matt Mattila, a Rocky Mountain Institute transportation consultant. "Now, attention is shifting towards capturing data and lessons learned from these early rollouts."

Currently, Project Get Ready is working with more than a dozen cities and technical advisers —a diverse group comprised of automakers, electric utilities, charging station providers, academic institutions and other NGOs— as a way to prepare for plug-in readiness.

A critical piece of advice for the Obama administration? Don’t reinvent the wheel, Mattila said.

“When federal funds are on the table, it is crucial that cities don’t waste time repeating each other’s mistakes,” he said. “When the government decides which 30 cities get a slice of the pie, it is important to consider how this money will help that individual city and how it will benefit cities with similar characteristics that are looking to close the gap in readiness.

“These pioneering cities will reap the benefit of being first movers,” Mattila continued, “but they are also taking on the challenge of preparing for the unknown and will make mistakes along the way. The key is to capture and learn from these mistakes rather than attempt to gloss over them.”

Getting Connected

A 2010 report by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants and RMI’s Project Get Ready looked at America’s fifty largest cities to evaluate how they stack up in terms of EV readiness. While the report specified where cities fell in the pack (ranking cities as leaders, aggressive followers, fast followers or followers), the most surprising finding was a common characteristic shared by the majority of cities that were classified as “leaders.”

“We found that the vast majority of leading cities—those that researchers found to have built strong foundations to welcome electric vehicles—were active participants in regional or national EV readiness initiatives,” said Mattila. “This shows that there is no substitute for shared learning when building and pursuing an EV readiness strategy.”

With access to knowledge of the most recent research on electrified transportation, many of these EV coalitions such as Project Get Ready or Clean Cities, provide a framework to share best practices and expedite the planning process.

Likewise, the government can dovetail its efforts and stretch dollars further by funding cities that can serve as replicable pilots and making a dedicated effort to educate cities that missed out on the money.

A good example of how the Department of Energy is fostering city awareness is through the National Renewable Energy Lab’s case studies on plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicle deployment best practices. These cases highlight what four leading areas—Oregon, Raleigh, Los Angeles and Houston—are doing to streamline permitting and installation processes, cutting the time needed to install and permit home charging stations down to one or two days.

“Successfully launching EVs in a Houston or Raleigh is not the ultimate goal,” said Mattila, who will be presenting at the conference. “But enabling these cities to record and share how they forged a successful path forward in order to assist and encourage the next one million EV buyers would be funding well spent.” 

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