One of the first benefits for Lima, Ohio, will be a fleet analysis provided by another partner at no cost to the city.
Since 1886, when John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company began distilling petroleum there, fossil fuels have played a key role in Lima, Ohio’s economy.
Today, the city of 37,000 aims to be an active player in the ongoing clean energy transition. Local leaders hope a partnership announced last week will help propel that progress.
“Energy has been part of our history for the last 130 years,” Lima Mayor David Berger said. “I expect that energy technology will continue to be a part of our community’s future.”
Lima is the 10th community to join a coalition called Power a Clean Future Ohio, founded by environmental and industry groups to help connect local governments with existing programs and resources to help support their moves to clean energy solutions. In Lima, one of the first benefits will be a vehicle fleet assessment for opportunities to reduce costs and emissions.
“We look forward to working [with] city officials and the community to identify a path forward that benefits all Lima residents,” said Joe Flarida, executive director for Power a Clean Future Ohio.
Ohio’s clean energy policy has moved backward at the state level over the past decade. Various lawmakers have fought against the state’s clean energy standards and have been hostile toward renewable energy, especially wind energy. Allegations of corruption also surfaced last summer around House Bill 6, which gutted the clean energy standards and codified subsidies for certain nuclear and coal plants.
Against that backdrop, various cities and communities in Ohio have taken steps to increase their use of clean energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Power a Clean Future Ohio formed last year to expand that progress. Its mission is to offer resources to local governments across the state so they can reduce emissions in ways that are achievable, equitable, measurable and economical.
The coalition’s 57 supporting groups include nearly 20 environmental groups, along with an assortment of industry groups, regional energy organizations, chamber of commerce groups and individual companies. Lima is among the smaller cities and communities that have joined the campaign so far.
“Lima is a hardworking community that sits in a very rural part of the state, with a fascinating history,” said Flarida, who grew up in the town and still has family there.
The city sits roughly halfway between Dayton and Toledo in northwest Ohio. The median household income from 2015 to 2019 was about $36,000, which was more than $20,000 below the statewide median. About a quarter of its population is Black, according to U.S. Census estimates.
In addition to refinery and petrochemical operations, the city has also hosted a locomotive plant and other industries. “It has a strong history around manufacturing and blue-collar jobs,” as well as innovation, Flarida said. “I think the future for Lima is really dependent on identifying new investments and new economic opportunities to bring private sector investment to the city.”
The coalition’s work with specific member communities depends on cities’ and towns’ priorities. “There’s all kinds of different entities that are at the table here because they see such incredible opportunities to support jobs and economic opportunities for Ohio’s cities all across the state,” Flarida said.
One of the first steps for Lima will be a detailed assessment of the city’s vehicle fleet. The goals include reducing costs, increasing efficiency and cutting greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. The city has roughly 100 vehicles, ranging from lightweight passenger vehicles to snowplows and other heavy-duty equipment.
Several years ago the city had hoped to get state grant money to pay for a technical evaluation of its vehicle fleet. Before it could qualify, the program and its funding disappeared, Berger said. Then Power a Clean Future Ohio began offering access to technical resources for communities in the state.
“It just became very clear that we still need to conduct that evaluation and assessment of our vehicles and what our options are going forward,” Berger said.
One of the coalition’s members, Clean Fuels Ohio, will provide the technical review of the city’s fleet. Formed in 2002, that nonprofit organization will celebrate its 20-year anniversary in January.
“When Clean Fuels Ohio does a fleet assessment, we provide both a financial return-on-investment time horizon, as well as sharing the emissions impact that deploying clean vehicles will have,” said Brendan Kelley, who directs the group’s Drive Electric Ohio program.
As part of its work, Clean Fuels Ohio puts data loggers in a fleet’s existing vehicles. They track how and where vehicles are driven. The organization also analyzes current and potential infrastructure needs for refueling and recharging.
The upfront cost of electric vehicles is declining substantially, largely because battery prices are going down, Kelley said. In many cases, it’s cheaper to charge a vehicle with electricity than it is to buy gasoline, he added. Electric vehicles also tend to have lower maintenance costs. However, the program will only recommend electric vehicles if they would be commercially viable.
“We don’t come in and say you have to electrify everything,” Kelley said. “We also recognize that there are financial realities and operational realities.”
“One of the exciting pieces about Power a Clean Future Ohio is that the campaign is designed with an understanding of all the different obstacles that a local government can face when they’re trying to create policies and take actions that can scale back their climate impact,” Kelley said.
Berger said he looks forward to the assessment and noted that the city has welcomed other clean energy initiatives. Thanks to a federal block grant in 2009, for example, the city was able to replace lighting in city buildings and for many of its streetlights with LED technology.
“We think that there may be some new federal funding streams that may become available in coming months,” including new energy block grants, Berger said. “We think the timing of this assessment and study could position us well to take advantage of those.”
Lima’s signing on to the coalition was personal for Flarida, he said. “I want to make sure that Lima has a strong future.” That includes a stable economy that employers are looking to invest in. “I think that’s just so critical for the next generation of Lima natives.”
As he sees it, though, real investments, goal setting and other work need to follow to make a clean energy future a reality. The clean energy sector had been growing before the COVID-19 pandemic began, he noted. And signs are that it will continue to grow. As a conservative estimate, a Feb. 2 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine forecasts that decarbonization of the U.S. economy could lead to a million new jobs.
“I hope that state leadership is seeing the message that local leaders, communities and mayors are sending them, which is that Ohio’s economy depends on clean energy investment,” Flarida said.
Local community leaders “get it” when it comes to moving toward more clean energy, Flarida added. “They know the challenges that they are facing when it comes to rising costs, environmental impact, and the health of their residents. They have a very pragmatic approach.”