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Fredericksburg joins Drive Clean Rural USA project

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Fredericksburg has entered into an eight-state pilot project designed to help local governments and institutions save money by transitioning vehicle fleets to U.S. clean fuels and advanced vehicle technologies.

Fredericksburg has entered into an eight-state pilot project designed to help local governments and institutions save money by transitioning vehicle fleets to U.S. clean fuels and advanced vehicle technologies.

Fredericksburg is the latest jurisdiction to announce its participation in the Drive Clean Rural USA project.

The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Fredericksburg is now one of 24 localities across the nation participating.

The goal of the $2.3 million project is to include rural communities in the pursuit of a clean environment. The project’s creators believe rural areas often miss out on opportunities because of inequitable access to information, infrastructure and financing.

“Transportation is our highest energy cost, our highest air quality challenge and is a great place to focus this attention today with high cost to communities for gasoline and diesel which are not produced in Virginia,” said Alleyn Harned, director of Virginia Clean Cities. “We are glad to work with these partners in the region through this analysis and this work, as all of Virginia moves forward with these transportation energy and emissions programs.”

The Fredericksburg government has partnered with the University of Mary Washington and the city’s public school system to participate in the project. City officials believe the partnership will help build more momentum in the community to meet sustainability goals.

The joint venture will receive technical assistance at no cost from Virginia Clean Cities throughout the project, which will be conducted in three phases and is expected to run through June 2024.

MacKenzie Belliman, Fredericksburg’s newly hired environmental sustainability coordinator, said the project could lead to the city government, schools and UMW sharing infrastructure in the future.

“As we collectively begin to transition to cleaner fuels, there may be cost savings and efficiencies in pooling limited resources to serve public sector needs collaboratively,” Belliman said.

Fredericksburg is already familiar with VCC, as it helped the city’s police department complete an assessment of its vehicles that led to the purchase of hybrid vehicles.

City officials have proclaimed they hope to transition completely to a clean fuel-powered fleet of vehicles. City Council’s stated goal is 100% renewable energy for all municipal operations by 2035. The school system recently received a grant to purchase 10 electric buses.

Superintendent Marci Catlett said she’s eager to get started on this latest endeavor.

“This joint initiative will educate students in an authentic way about the importance of clean fuel solutions, healthy air, personal and public economic opportunities and fiscal responsibility,” Catlett said. “We have already begun energy audits and opportunity reviews for solar, electric buses, reduced energy usage, etc.”

Catlett said the school system can maximize its clean energy potential by partnering with the city and UMW.

The project’s managers aim to engage with local government leaders and fleet managers to remove barriers and accelerate access to clean fuel including electric vehicles.

Transportation Energy Partners Executive Director Ken Brown said Fredericksburg can become a model small community when it comes to clean energy.

“Through their work with Virginia Clean Cities and by sharing their successes and challenges, Fredericksburg will help small and rural communities across the country find new and better ways to transition to cleaner fuels and vehicles,” Brown said.

The project’s scope includes an assessment of the city’s fleet by industry specialists. There will also be vehicle demos and expert consultation to help the three partners develop practical plans to build upon their environmental priorities.

The assessment and plan development will examine fuel type costs, benefits, infrastructure and financing options as well as federal and state financial incentives.

Mary Washington President Troy Paino said the initiative comes at an “opportune time” for his school.

“UMW is in the process of developing a Climate Action Plan with clear and timely clean energy targets,” Paino said. “Partnering with the city and schools will propel this plan forward to the benefits of everyone in our community.”

City officials are also working with ABM Industries to analyze government buildings, such as City Hall, the Dorothy Hart Community Center, the police department headquarters and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library on Caroline Street.

The ABM energy-savings project is now in the investment grade audit phase. The next steps include working with a vendor to evaluate potential projects. City Council is expecting to consider energy-saving projects this summer, with work getting underway in the next fiscal year.

Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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