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Electric vehicle tour highlights need for equitable charging access in Cleveland

A coast-to-coast electric vehicle road relay recently stopped in Cleveland and highlighted the need for equity in the transition to electric vehicles. 

Drive Electric Northeast Ohio welcomed the Route Zero Road Trip for its June 11 stop at the new headquarters of the Cleveland Foundation. 

The foundation chose the location to promote equitable growth in the Midtown and Hough neighborhoods, a historically redlined area where a majority of residents are Black and median household incomes are less than half of Ohio’s statewide median.

The Route Zero Road Trip is an electric vehicle tour from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., that began last month. Drive Electric Northeast Ohio worked with the Cleveland Foundation to host the stop at the foundation’s new headquarters, which features a solar-powered carport, to draw attention to the neighborhoods and the importance of making sure that people at all income levels can take advantage of the shift toward electrification.

“We believe everyone should be able to access EVs and to have a clean energy charging infrastructure providing benefits beyond just a clean, quiet, fun ride,” said Michael Benson, vice president of Drive Electric Northeast Ohio. He’s also a co-owner of Command Consulting, a Wadsworth firm that advises on electrification, microgrids and shared services.

Beyond being electric car enthusiasts, Drive Electric Northeast Ohio focuses more broadly on electrification, Benson said, particularly the “chicken-egg problem of EVs and EV charging.” Ideally, he said, batteries could store electricity from solar arrays, which then could charge electric vehicles.

Both solar energy and the development of electric car charging in the area appealed to Keith Benford, who attended the Route Zero Road Trip event and said he lives in the Midtown-Hough neighborhood.

“It’s the new technology. They’re going with all-electric cars. And we can kind of capitalize on that by having charging stations in our area, and having the solar arrays.” Benford said. “We’ve got a lot of building that’s going to happen around here in our neighborhood. And that would be a perfect opportunity when the buildings come up to have solar.”

People in the Hough neighborhood have already shown interest in developing clean energy. The Hough Block Club has been working for several years to develop a community-based solar array in the area.

“Everyone in that group is committed to the project, but the timeline is getting stretched out a little bit longer,” said Jonathan Welle, executive director of Cleveland Owns, which has provided technical assistance to the Hough Block Club. While there’s no definite date for completion, the Hough Block Club had an environmental assessment completed earlier this year, Welle added.

Neither Cleveland Owns nor the Hough Block Club organized the electric car event on June 11. Yet Welle agreed that Hough and other disadvantaged neighborhoods should be at the table as electrification, the move to electric vehicles, and other parts of the clean energy transition continue.

The neighborhood “has been a center of disinvestment and capital strife for decades, due to racism and systemic injustice,” Welle said. So, he added, residents there can help create a new system to avoid those problems.

The City of Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability & Climate Justice also is working to get more electric vehicle charging capacity in the city’s neighborhoods. A charging station opened last fall at the Frederick Douglass Recreation Center in the Lee-Harvard neighborhood. The Cleveland Foundation’s chargers are currently available only to staff and visitors.

Several others are in the works, said Elizabeth Lehman, who is the built environment project manager at the city’s Office of Sustainability & Climate Justice. Two stations with a total of four ports will be at the Canal Basin parking lot near the Cuyahoga River. A station with two ports will go in at Cleveland Hopkins Airport’s red lot. And charging stations for the West Side Market and the downtown Willard Garage are part of a recently approved project by the Northeast Ohio Area Coordinating Agency, whose list of planned charging sites also includes dozens more locations throughout its five-county planning area, including several Cleveland Public Library branches.

Additionally, the city of Cleveland requested bids earlier this year for installing electric chargers throughout the city. “We hope to have a vendor selected soon,” Lehman said. “This project will also help us to determine the total number of stations that we hope to have available citywide over the next couple of years.”

The city’s bidding documents note that preference will be given to contractors who plan to work in communities that are marginalized, underserved and overburdened by pollution, based on the federal government’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool. The tool shows most areas in the city are disadvantaged and would qualify under the criteria.

Preference will also go to contractors who can propose a no-cost or low-cost rate structure for low-to-moderate income consumers, specifically for those who use charging stations within the city’s business districts, the bidding materials said.

A March addendum to the bidding materials also noted the city’s intent to support the winning bidder in pursuing federal funding under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act. The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation’s website currently shows July 28 as the deadline for some of those grants.

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