TOP FIVE 2022 SUCCESSES
The Centralina Clean Fuels Coalition (CCFC) is the designated Clean Cities Coalition for the greater Charlotte region through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Housed at Centralina Regional Council, CCFC has served the region for over 20 years, working with more than 100 local and regional stakeholders to reduce petroleum usage and promote clean fuels and energy efficient mobility options. This year saw CCFC redouble our efforts through a variety of innovative, collaborative projects. As 2022 draws to a close, let’s look back at the top five successes for clean, equitable transportation across the region over the last year.
1. PoleVolt: Collaborating for Accessible, Affordable EV Charging
The PoleVolt project is a three-year collaborative effort led by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) Energy Production and Infrastructure Center, in cooperation with the City of Charlotte, Duke Energy and CCFC, to deploy a one-year pilot of curbside Electric Vehicle (EV) charging equipment that draws power from adjacent, existing light poles. The innovative PoleVolt project utilizes existing Duke Energy-owned utility poles and curbside parking to provide community charging to residents without access to at-home charging, such as those living in apartments or multi-family housing. The pilot established a new avenue for EV charging that lowers costs by leveraging existing assets while supporting equitable access to charging infrastructure. Funded by DOE, the PoleVolt pilot has also presented an opportunity to identify best practices for Charlotte and other communities looking to equitably scale up Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) deployment.
The first PoleVolt unit was installed at The Ritz at Washington Heights, a new city park constructed in the Historic West End Neighborhood of Charlotte along the Beatties Ford Road Corridor of Opportunity. The first installation benefitted from a strong partnership with community members in the Historic West End, who advocated for the pilot unit to be located at the park to help raise community awareness of EVs and corresponding education and workforce development opportunities. In February 2022, the project team unveiled the charging unit and welcomed North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and City of Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles to the site to learn about the first-of-its-kind technology and exemplary partnership that made the project possible.
In May 2022, a community event called EVs for Equity was held at the park and featured groups including CleanAIRE NC, Historic West End Green District representatives, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), Central Piedmont Community College’s Automotive Program, the PoleVolt project team and many others. The event demonstrated the PoleVolt technology, gave residents an opportunity to learn about passenger EVs and technology, and displayed new EV bus models that will be used on CATS routes in the Historic West End.
The installation of the first PoleVolt unit illuminated critical strategic and regulatory decisions for the City of Charlotte to make as the demand for EV charging grows citywide. In July 2022, CCFC staff facilitated a day-long workshop with leaders and subject matter experts from the City, Mecklenburg County and Duke Energy to share lessons learned from the PoleVolt project and identify key barriers and opportunities for scaling up EVSE deployment across Charlotte. Workshop participants learned about EVSE deployments in peer cities, identified criteria for EVSE site selection and brainstormed how EVSE fits into the City’s existing land use and mobility plans and into broader policies around equity, access, economic development and multimodal transportation. Through the workshop, five next steps emerged for the City and other key partners:
- Development of a clear community vision and policy for EVSE deployment
- Creation of a community engagement strategy around citywide EVSE deployment, focusing on equity implications of EVSE
- Coordination on roles and responsibilities for City, County and external agencies for EVSE deployment
- Development of a standardized list of site selection criteria for charging units
- Facilitation of conversations with Duke Energy and other third-party providers around grid capacity, unit ownership, cost of charging, operations and maintenance
Detailed findings from the workshop and learnings from throughout the project’s three-year duration will be shared in a final project report in March 2023. In the meantime, project partners are already striving to implement lessons learned. The full project team is seeking funding to pursue several of the five next steps outlined above, including a community vision and engagement strategy for EVSE deployment in Charlotte and the installation of publicly accessible chargers citywide. In the meantime, the project continues to receive recognition for its innovative technology, equity-centered approach and unique partnerships. In November 2022, the Research Triangle Cleantech Cluster honored the PoleVolt project team with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Cleantech Award.
2. CONNECT Beyond: Expanding Clean Regional Mobility
Adopted in October 2021, the CONNECT Beyond Regional Mobility Plan is a bold regional transit vision providing real mobility solutions and opportunities for residents and visitors across the two-state, 12-county greater Charlotte region. The plan centers on strategies for providing reliable transportation access to facilitate access to jobs, education, medical facilities and services, and serves as the foundation for our region’s continued economic competitiveness and quality of life. Since the plan’s adoption by the Centralina Board of Delegates and Transportation Planning Organizations (TPOs) throughout the region, CONNECT Beyond has moved forward with implementation of the plan’s recommendations to advance transportation choice and expand mobility options available throughout the region. CCFC continues to be a critical partner for implementation by advocating for and supporting clean transportation choices, from clean fuels for public transit vehicles to electric micro-mobility and ride sharing options.
In early 2023, CCFC will hold two listening sessions with Clean Cities stakeholders to gather input on clean transportation efforts across the region that will continue to inform CONNECT Beyond implementation. One session will explore the CONNECT Beyond Plan’s recommendation to establish mobility hubs from a clean mobility perspective, investigating how EV infrastructure and other electric mobility options might be leveraged to better support rural and suburban communities. The other session will seek input from regional stakeholders about the connection between clean-fueled transportation options and the development of a regional Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program for the greater Charlotte region. The TDM program, which is projected to launch in 2024, aims to educate the region’s residents about clean mobility options available and the economic, health and environmental benefits of commuting and traveling using modes other than private vehicles.
Centralina Clean Fuels Coalition intern, Madeline Davis, is modeling CCFC’s efforts to improve awareness of transportation choice by developing a guide for fellow UNC Charlotte students to better understand the benefits of and how to use public transportation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County. The inspiration for the project came from Madeline’s personal experience riding public transportation to attend school and her internship. Her project will feature two deliverables: a Transportation Guide – detailing various transportation options for UNC Charlotte students, the benefits of using public transit and more – and a one-pager highlighting “7 Tips for Riding Public Transportation.” Although the guides target a student audience, their messaging underscores the importance of expanding clean mobility options for audiences throughout the region. To continue this work, Madeline joined the UNC Charlotte Light Rail Marketing Group in November 2022 to provide insight on student attitudes toward light rail and other forms of public transportation. Keep an eye on the news section of the UNC Charlotte Parking and Transportation Services website in early January to see the final resources!
3. Advancing Electrification Across the Region
While CCFC works across a variety of clean fuel types, electric vehicles (EVs) have become a major focus for communities in the region. Through favorable policy and funding sources for EVs at the federal and state level, local governments have many opportunities to pursue electrification in their communities. CCFC is helping connect our members to those opportunities through data tools, technical assistance, education and other strategies.
For communities who are new to the world of EVs, the various sources of information from local, state and federal sources can be overwhelming. A particular concern for communities in the region has been how to identify local and national funding opportunities for Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) and other EV infrastructure. Additionally, local conditions such as infrastructure and equity can impact a community’s eligibility for certain grants.
To address this issue, Centralina has developed a region-specific EVSE Funding Dashboard to serve as a one-stop resource for communities, organizations and businesses to identify available funding opportunities. In addition to grants, the dashboard displays information on physical infrastructure and equity (i.e. disadvantaged communities identified by the U.S. Department of Energy) so that communities can not only identify potential funding sources but also determine which funding sources are most appropriate for their local context and needs. This tool is regularly updated and will continue to evolve as new funding opportunities and data sources are made available.
In addition to helping communities identify funding sources, CCFC has worked directly with communities to leverage those funds towards EV implementation. In Anson County, CCFC staff worked with county staff to access NC Volkswagen Settlement funds. The county’s long-term vision is to transition their human services transit fleet to electric vehicles and the needed the charging infrastructure to support an electric fleet. Their proposed project was for an installed DC Fast charging station located in Wadesboro near the I-74 corridor. The charging station will be on publicly accessible government-owned property, and the software can be managed by Anson County administration. This successful proposal has promoted interest in EVs around the Wadesboro area and is anticipate to encourage continued efforts from the county to pursue additional EV funding.
A fundamental component of the Coalition’s work has been to promote education on EVs to a diversity of regional partners. In October, the CCFC partnered with the City of Charlotte to host an EV ride and drive event for local government staff at the City’s Vehicle Operations Center. A wide range of EVs were available for driving, including: Ford F-150 Lightning, Tesla Model Y, Ford Mustang Mach-e, Hyundai IONIQ and Chevy Bolt. Participants saw first-hand the many ways which EVs can be used in a local government fleet, including a presentation from the Town of Marshville Police Department on its Tesla police car. In total, over 100 people attended the event. Through interacting directly with EVs and peer local governments, participants were able to learn about the benefits and capabilities of EVs and how they might acquire them for their own fleets.
4. Centering Equity in Clean Transportation
CCFC recognizes the importance of centering equity and restorative justice in efforts to advance clean transportation, both to avoid repeating past injustices and to mitigate and resolve the detrimental impacts of past planning and decision-making that still impact underserved communities today. Throughout its history, CCFC has prioritized an equity lens in project development, stakeholder engagement and project outcomes. In the last year alone, equity has factored heavily into the CCFC project portfolio. Whether uplifting and relying on partnership with communities to implement the PoleVolt project, leveraging regional equity data in the development of the CONNECT Beyond plan and recommendations or illuminating federal and state-identified disadvantaged communities through the EVSE Funding Dashboard so local governments can better serve those communities, CCFC continues this commitment to an equity-based approach to clean transportation.
In 2022, CCFC also took steps to expand our capacity to integrate equity into every component of our projects, from inception to implementation to evaluation. Coalition staff participated actively in Phases 1 and 2 of the Clean Cities Energy and Environmental Justice Initiative (CCEEJI), a DOE-led program to provide Clean Cities Coalitions with hands-on training, tools and education to center equity and the priorities of the federal Justice 40 Initiative in Clean Cities Coalition projects. In Phase 1, CCFC staff attended a series of webinars educating coalitions about a range of equity topics including rural and tribal transportation strategies, equitable outcomes for community engagement and community-driven transportation solutions. In Phase 2, Reaghan Murphy, Regional Planner for CCFC, represented the coalition at a series of five in-person and virtual workshops providing hands-on experience and training for equitable community engagement, facilitation, project design, communications and analysis.
The CCEEJI program has transformed CCFC’s approach to rely more heavily on community-driven transportation projects and has empowered the Coalition to more proactively prioritize equity across our project portfolio. For example, outputs from the CCEEJI Phase 2 trainings have directly informed planning efforts for follow-up efforts emerging from the PoleVolt project. CCFC also actively seeks to implement lessons learned from the trainings in other upcoming projects, such as the Affordable Mobility Platform (AMP) project, a partnership with Forth Mobility and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to implement electric vehicle carsharing programs at affordable housing communities in Charlotte and other cities nationwide. CCFC looks forward to continuing training and engagement around energy and environmental justice at the local, regional and national scales in the new year and beyond.
5. Recognizing Regional Successes
In 2022, CCFC and Centralina Regional Council also celebrated several regional efforts to reduce petroleum dependency and advance clean fuels through the Centralina Region of Excellence Awards. Three projects from across the region were nominated for the Clean Cities award, which recognizes an organization or project that contributes to reducing fossil fuel dependency, grows the region’s understanding of best practices for alternative fuels and clean transportation and demonstrates leadership in emerging mobility initiatives or alternative fuel activities.
In addition to the PoleVolt project described above, MacLeod Construction and the Charlotte-Douglas Airport EV Bus Fleet were also nominated for the 2022 Clean Cities Award. MacLeod Construction has made significant strides in leveraging compressed natural gas to power part of their construction fleet, ensuring project sites receive concrete in a more environmentally friendly way. Charlotte-Douglas Airport, the selected award recipient, revitalized their fleet to include battery-electric, zero-emission buses, newer vehicles with lower emissions than their predecessors and fuel economy improvements to reduce fuel usage and costs. The airport’s efforts resulted in a reduction in petroleum gas usage by nearly 100,000 gasoline gallon equivalents in 2021 alone!
The Centralina Clean Fuels Coalition is exceedingly proud of the steps taken this year by coalition staff, project partners, local and regional stakeholders and communities across the region and state to manifest a clean transportation transition that is equitable, affordable and accessible for all. If your community or organization has contributed to these efforts in 2022, consider submitting a nomination for the Centralina Region of Excellence Awards in the Clean Cities category (nominations close on January 6, 2023). CCFC hopes to engage with many of your communities, fleets and organizations in the new year as we continue to pursue this important work!