Local Communities Will Lead the Way on Electrification

February 1, 2022

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Members of Congress and global heads of state dominated many headlines in 2021 regarding transportation emissions-reduction targets. But as international negotiations and activity in Congress drew on, counties and municipalities across the U.S. have continued making steady progress towards electrification through programs like Bloomberg Philanthropies’ American Cities Climate Challenge and the Climate Mayors EV Purchasing Collaborative.

While there are increasing commitments globally and nationally, much of the implementation work will need to continue at the local level to meet the ambitious targets to accelerate electrification, especially with increased federal funding for electric vehicles (EVs) and charging infrastructure on the way. Communities with the right policies, plans, and shovel-ready projects will be the ones best prepared to submit competitive proposals, secure grants, and get the most mileage out of the awarded funds.

Much of the implementation work will need to continue at the local level to meet the ambitious targets to accelerate electrification.

Local jurisdictions — including rural communities — stand to benefit significantly from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed by President Biden in November. With billions of dollars allocated for charging infrastructure and electric school buses, communities should start preparing now. And Congress may yet approve additional transportation electrification programs and policies in 2022 through the budget reconciliation process, allocating funding towards the purchase of EVs and further build-out of charging infrastructure for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. The electric transportation future is upon us, and counties and municipalities must act now to seize this window of opportunity.

Cities: Early Leaders in Electrification

Regardless of how the exact details play out in Washington or on the international stage, cities will continue to lead electrification policy and EV deployment. The City of San Antonio, for example, has been working to advance EV adoption for more than a decade, since it converted five of its Toyota Prius hybrids to plug into the grid in 2010 — long before passage of the city council’s 2017 resolution to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In December 2019, the City published its Electric Vehicle Fleet Conversion and City-Wide Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Study, which identified best practices for fleet electrification and needs for workplace charging, home charging, and DC fast charging. Among the study’s findings, only 56% of the city’s housing units were single-family detached homes with a driveway or garage, suggesting that 44% of potential EV owners in San Antonio would need to rely on public or workplace charging. Thus began planning to roll out publicly accessible EV charging in areas with the greatest need. Through a partnership with Blink and TxVEMP grant funding, the City has identified 50 locations that will offer Level 2 dual-port stations for charging equipment, with installation already underway.

The electric transportation future is upon us, and counties and municipalities must act now to seize this window of opportunity.

San Antonio is transitioning its entire fleet of passenger vehicles and small trucks to more efficient options by 2025, with a priority placed on electrification. The City currently has 20 fully electric light-duty vehicles in its fleet, with plans for 10 additional units in 2022. City leadership is reviewing new sustainable fleet acquisition and management guidelines to align fleet procurement goals with the City’s climate action plan.

Model Local Policies for Electrification

Growing numbers of cities, towns, counties, and states are committing to ambitious EV deployment goals, both for their organizations and the communities they serve. Meeting these targets requires thoughtful policymaking across several categories, listed below, with the participation of a wide range of stakeholders.

  1. Charging infrastructure: Policies that accelerate charging infrastructure development are vital to foster the uptake of EVs across all vehicle classes. Widespread charging infrastructure strengthens consumer confidence in EVs and helps public- and private-sector fleets transition. About 80% of charging in the light-duty sector will occur at home or the workplace, but not all EV drivers will have access to home charging. Residents who live in multi-unit dwellings may not have adequate access to charging stations. Therefore, it is essential that municipalities and counties install charging stations at or near multi-unit dwellings. And while fleet operators may install charging stations at fleet facilities, at least some charging will be necessary at other locations, particularly for applications with long routes. Public-sector involvement in the planning, design and implementation of charging infrastructure is critical.
  2. Multi-sector policies: Some electrification policies apply to all classes of vehicles operating in the public and private sectors. They include zero-emission areas, diesel prohibitions, EV purchase rebates, and EV incentives in tolls and congestion pricing. For example, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District in California offers rebates of up to $3,000 to purchase an EV or other alternative fuel vehicle, available to residents and businesses in an eight-county area.
  3. Freight electrification policies: Zero-emission delivery zones or curb access ordinances give EVs priority access to curbs and/or loading zones. In partnership with the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, the City of Santa Monica established the nation’s first zero-emission delivery zone in early 2021. Zero-emission ports, inland freight hubs, and warehouse districts incentivize fleets and independent operators to electrify their vehicles to access premier facilities.
  4. Fleet electrification policies: Cities, towns and counties can play a direct and robust role in accelerating the transition to an electric transportation system by making commitments and setting policies to electrify public-sector fleets and encouraging private-sector fleets to do the same. Buses and light-duty vehicles are the best places to start because of the wide variety of electric models available. However, many heavy-duty EVs will become available within the next few years. Miami-Dade County has plans to deploy 75 electric buses by the end of this year, making it one of the largest electric bus fleets in the country. EV procurement and use policies can require all new vehicles purchased to be electric unless a waiver is obtained. The City of Albuquerque, for example, passed a vehicle acquisition policy in 2020 that prioritizes zero-emission and fuel-efficient vehicles.
  5. Consumer adoption policies: Many policies that encourage the adoption of EVs among consumers are enacted at the federal and state levels, but towns, counties and cities can also be influential. Municipal and county governments can coordinate bulk purchases, offer purchase incentives and implement policies that require ride-sharing companies to transition their vehicles to be electric.

For more detailed information on local policies that communities can use to advance transportation electrification and position themselves to take advantage of federal funding opportunities, see Electrifying Transportation in Municipalities: A Policy Toolkit for Electric Vehicle Deployment and Adoption at the Local Level. This toolkit, published in 2021 by the Electrification Coalition and the American Cities Climate Challenge, contains the latest and most comprehensive information on local transportation electrification policy. It includes real-world examples from communities across the country.

Local government agencies can also reach out directly to the Electrification Coalition for technical assistance, resources, customized guidance, tools and support to deploy EVs and charging infrastructure. Explore the EC at www.electrificationcoalition.org.