Cleaning Up Their Act

Cincinnati and Hamilton County get grant for alt-fuel vehicles

Greater Cincinnati’s air will soon become a little less smoggy thanks to money from President Obama’s economic stimulus plan.

The city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County will add 22 new alternative fuel and hybrid vehicles to their fleets after being awarded a slice of an $11 million Clean Cities Grant aimed at cleaning up Ohio's air.

The statewide grant came from federal stimulus funds and will be distributed by Clean Fuels Ohio, a Columbus-based nonprofit group dedicated to increasing the use of cleaner-burning domestic fuels and vehicles.

Those federal funds will be combined with $18 million more in pledged private and local government dollars. The total $29 million represents the largest single investment in advanced transportation energy infrastructure and vehicle technology in the state's history, officials say.

"We'd already had a lot of partners across the state working on (alternative fuel) projects, and wanted to put them together on a large scale, when money became available through the Stimulus Act," says Micah Vieux (pictured), Clean Fuels Ohio Policy Director.

The Clean Cities Grant will be spent on both public and private endeavors. In total, the money will help purchase 280 compressed natural gas, propane and electric powered vehicles and build 15 refueling stations across the state.

"There's a lot of focus on Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati," Vieux says, "but there's funding going into projects in smaller communities, and that is really significant."

Locally, Cincinnati received the largest share of the funds. The city has been awarded $122,000 in Clean Cities Grant support that it will use to help buy eight hybrid-electric and 10 propane-powered city vehicles. That makes up a small fraction of the 3,450 fleet (which includes everything from small cars to large construction equipment) but ups the city's existing number of cleaner-burning vehicles.

The city now has 14 hybrid electric vehicles and 41 gas/ethanol flex fuel vehicles, mostly purchased within the last four years. That's contributed to using less fuel overall — in 2009, for example, the city used 56,000 fewer gallons of fuel than in 2008, city officials say.

Emissions from vehicles are a large source of greenhouse gas-causing pollution, and Cincinnati is consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 worst areas in terms of air quality. These vehicles, along with other pollution-curbing plans, will help the city reach its goal of curbing greenhouse emissions 80 percent by 2050 per its Green Cincinnati Plan.

The vehicles will not only help make the city's air cleaner but will also save the cash-strapped city money, says Larry Falkin, director of the Cincinnati Office of Environmental Quality.

"We'll start saving on fuel bills immediately," Falkin says. "Normally alternative fuel vehicles cost more than a conventional vehicle, but these funds will pay the up charge. So we'll be buying them at the same rate as conventional vehicles."

Final details are still being resolved before the money is distributed here, but the vehicles should be purchased within the year.

Hamilton County was awarded $8,000 and will use that to help buy four new hybrid-electric vehicles. It's a much smaller amount, but with only a 19-vehicle fleet it will bump up the county's percentage of hybrids to 55 percent.

"Our average combined miles per gallon is 31 miles per gallon, and according to (fueleconomy.com) that's about 50 percent better than average fleet vehicle," says Cory Chadwick, director of the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services. "The hybrids are really pushing (our miles per gallon rate) up, especially considering we have one hybrid that drives to Columbus and back every day of the year."

Cincinnati and Hamilton County are just small pieces of the overall impact the grant will have on Ohio's roadways. Although this Clean Cities Grant is a big step, it still will take a larger, consistent effort to make it economical and convenient for the average driver to purchase and use hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles.

"It's going to take a commitment from the government, and the state of Ohio needs to set reduction goals and needs to come up with a mechanism to meet those goals," Vieux says.

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