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The Clean Energy Race

June 29, 2011 - 5:09pm

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Hybrid vehicles circle the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the inaugural Clean Cities Stakeholder Summit

Hybrid vehicles circle the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the inaugural Clean Cities Stakeholder Summit

The car hugged the track as I headed into the fourth turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I kept my speed steady and then – coming out of the turn – hit the accelerator and felt the g forces pull me back against the seat.

But I wasn’t in a race car. I was in a Chevy Volt – General Motors' new “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” which is winning rave reviews, including Motor Trend’s 2011 Car of the Year award. Since electric motors have instant torque, “plug-ins” such as the Volt can have great pickup. They also give drivers a choice – if gasoline gets expensive, drive around town on electricity instead.

I was at the Speedway to help kick off the first Clean Cities Stakeholder Summit, an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that brought together more than 500 members of local coalitions from around the country to discuss actions they’re taking to diversify the fuel mix in our vehicle fleet and reduce petroleum consumption. These local and corporate leaders are helping fleets of all kinds make the transition to alternative fuel vehicles.

As part of the Summit, we recognized leaders in transportation sustainability, including Lisa Thurstin of the Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition and Robin Erickson of the Utah Clean Cities Coalition. These two outstanding leaders were inducted into the Clean Cities Hall of Fame by Patrick Davis, the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program Manager, for their accomplishments in moving their communities towards clean, domestic energy sources. Their efforts embody the mission of the 87 Clean Cities coalitions and 8,400 local partners they represent, which have collectively displaced nearly three billion gallons of petroleum.

However, the Clean Cities program doesn’t just help reduce our dependence on petroleum. It also helps increase demand for advanced manufacturing right here in the United States. In January, for example, after an order from Clean Cities local partners, Freightliner celebrated the 1,000th hybrid truck built at its plant in Mt. Holly, North Carolina. In the past year, Enerdel, an Indiana battery manufacturer I visited today, has seen its business boom and its staff increase by more than 100 employees thanks in part to the demand from Clean City partners. Seeing the new manufacturing lines at EnerDel – supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- reinforced the important role that programs like Clean Cities have on both our economy and our environment. In an era of global competition, when governments around the world are working to help their businesses capture global markets, our success will depend in part on ensuring that U.S. federal, state and local governments are able to do the same.

Shortly after coming out of my final turn, I crossed the fabled finish line at the Indy Speedway. But the race to capture the growing global market for alternative vehicles will continue for decades to come. Local leaders from around this great country – such as those at this year’s Clean Cities Stakeholder Summit – will help make the difference.

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