Columbus Wins Federal 'Smart City' Grant, Meaning More EVs in a State Without Much Green Power

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
columbus wins federal smart city grant meaning more evs in a state without much

Columbus, Ohio was chosen as the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Smart City Challenge,” beating out six other mid-size cities for the $40 million federal grant.

With that grant and $100 million pledged from philanthropic and business sources on tap, the city’s plan will see improvements in social infrastructure and green, connected transportation — including greater electric vehicle use and new recharging infrastructure — despite the fact that Ohio’s power grid isn’t very green.

The goal of the DOT’s Smart City Challenge is to create the sustainable transportation network of the future. Columbus beat out Portland, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Austin, San Francisco and Denver to win the federal cash. The bulk of the remaining money ($90 million) will come from local businesses, with $10 million sourced from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc.

What does it mean for the Ohio capital? Mainly, improved transit options and WiFi infrastructure in the city’s most impoverished neighborhood, better access to health care, an app for mobility options, electric shuttle buses connecting transit stations to job-heavy retail locations, and a big push to increase EV use.

Columbus plans to convert more of its public vehicle fleet to EVs, and its businesses have pledged to increase EV use in their own fleets, as well as build new recharging stations. Under the plan, company CEOs will even ditch their gas-powered rides for EVs.

The goal of reducing infant mortality rates and improving the lives of low-income residents is admirable, but the city’s EV plan has an environmental Achilles heel. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Ohio’s electricity network ranks 49th out of 50 states for renewable power (2015 figures), with the grid’s biggest energy source (58 percent of generation, as of 2015) being coal.

Last June, Ohio’s public utilities commission listed “renewables” as just 1.5 percent of the state’s energy mix, with coal making up roughly 58 percent, natural gas at 24.8 percent, and nuclear at 15.47 percent.

State law says that 12.5 percent of Ohio’s electricity generation must come from renewables by 2027, which will surely make the Columbus EV fleet a little greener. Still, unless they offset their increased electricity use in other ways, EV owners in Ohio are just trading their personal tailpipe emissions for a faraway boost in smokestack emissions.

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  • The Dad The Dad on Jul 11, 2016

    So my training on the subject is a little long in the tooth, but iirc, it's far cheaper and more efficient to scrub pollutants from stationary sources like power plants than from mobile sources like ICE cars. It's at least theoretically possible that it's a net positive.

  • TMA1 TMA1 on Jul 11, 2016

    And to think, all those years Mayor Coleman spent trying to get light rail into the city. I bet he would have loved to get his hands on some of this money. Finally, instead of having the #2 occasionally slow down traffic on High St., they could rip out an entire lane that would make the OSU campus more accessible to criminals via light rail.

  • Abrar Very easy and understanding explanation about brake paint
  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?
  • Roger hopkins Why do they all have to be 4 door??? Why not a "cab & a half" and a bit longer box. This is just another station wagon of the 21st century. Maybe they should put fake woodgrain on the side lol...