Sammamish mayor ‘charged up’

Cities jostle for millions in grant money as alternative energy projects present new opportunities for public and private.

Issaquah and Sammamish are among a coalition of cities in the Puget Sound area to split $15 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop alternative fuel and vehicle projects.

The money is being given to the Puget Sound Clean Cities Coalition, of which our two cities are members, a program of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency which aims to promote policies and practices that reduce petroleum consumption in transportation.

The presentation of the giant check was just one of a number of developments at the Discovery Institute’s “Beyond Oil” conference last week, an event which has left local officials and business leaders energized by the possibilities of electric vehicles, charging stations, and intelligent transportation infrastructure that could change more than just the way we travel.

Mayor of Sammamish Don Gerend said he was “really charged up” by the two day conference at Microsoft’s Redmond campus which featured speakers from major car manufacturers, U.S. Congressman Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Ron Sims, as well as alternative energy and transportation policy analysts at the highest levels.

“The technology is coming and its coming fast,” Gerend said. For him, a vision of where Sammamish might fit in this new energy future is beginning to take shape. He describes a time, hopefully in the near future, where commuters make brief trips in short range electric vehicles, or

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) to “mobility hubs,” where they have signed up online for a van pool to their destination of choice.

The destinations and number of available seats are listed on an electric board.

Gerend is thinking about purchasing an NEV for himself within the next year — these are small vehicles which plug into a standard outlet at home, are limited to 35 miles an hour but don’t require things like seat belts or other safety equipment. Examples include the ZENN and the Wheego Whip.

The mayor also said that the city would purchase “at least one fully electric vehicle next year,” and a few hybrids, such as the Ford Escape.

“That’s one step in the right direction.”

City of Issaquah Resource Conservation Office Manager David Fujimoto said the DOE grant would allow the city to upgrade some of its vehicle fleet to hybrid and electric vehicles over the next two years, as well as providing a number of charging stations around the city.

“These will be a mixture of public and private, in terms of the locations,” he said. Private, he said, referred to sites such as business parks and retail destinations, central destinations for commuters, as opposed to private residences. “The purpose of the program is to increase the availability of charging stations. What the city will do is figure out where the best locations will be.”

City of Sammamish Director of Community Development Kamuron Gurol said the DOE would provide them with a very limited amount of money for fleet upgrades, about $4,000, and the city was still waiting to see how much would be available for charging stations.

Sammamish and Issaquah are also leading a coalition of cities known as C7, in a bid for state funds to compose a charging stations strategy for the Eastside. In coming months they will find out whether they have been successful in their application for a grant of $150,000 for this purpose.

Gerend, who has attended the Beyond Oil conference for the last three years, said this year’s event had a feeling of real optimism, with ideas that were perhaps pipe dreams a few years ago now becoming genuine possibilities.

“When you get Ford coming to these meetings, you know it is serious business,” he said.

Gerend also said he would be pushing hard for Sammamish to be included in a program that will see five cities, including Seattle, getting 2,500 charging stations.

The federal government has given $100 million to the Electric Transportation Engineering Corporation (eTec), which will install 220-volt charging stations in homes, work places and other locations.

Gerend said that city staff were exploring the ideas of charging stations in high schools as a way of setting a good example to younger generations.

“Teachers could buy electric vehicles and then charge them at school,” he said. “This would be a great way for the kids to see what is possible. They will grow up with the idea of electric vehicles as mainstream thinking.”

Gerend said that at present, Sammamish in particular was “held hostage by the gasoline and the oil dictators of the world, because we have no transit,” and so residents here had no other option for the travel needs.

Imported oil accounts for about 60 percent of America’s total consumption, reaching $1 billion a day during peaks. Economists agree this places America in a very precarious position economically. It is also a matter of concern regarding America’s independence and national security.

“If we can develop the infrastructure, like lithium-ion batteries and smart grids, then we have got real competition for oil,” he said. “That takes away the blackmail.”

The Issaquah Chamber of Commerce’s Nathan Perea said the conference delivered a good mix of optimism for the future, and reality.

“There wasn’t the pie in the sky message that we are going to wake up tomorrow and have an oil free future,” he said. “One of the quotes I heard a number of times was that if we are going to stop using oil it will have to be ‘the ultimate team sport.’”

By this Perea referred to the cooperation of private and public agencies, and the contribution of citizens.

Perea, who was at the forefront of negotiations earlier this year to lure Bellevue’s Electric Car Co. to Issaquah, said he has been working to bring the chamber into discussions with companies such as Charge Northwest and Pacific Electric Vehicles.

“There are ways to bring this technology to Issaquah,” he said.

Perea, who appears to have lost his race for city council, said the possibilities were endless for Issaquah’s role in an alternative energy future.

“By attracting the right type of businesses we could be among the first to set up an alternative energy campus,” he said. “It would be a business park, but for renewable energy and green technology. This is just an idea.”