February 06 2014

Kansas City, Missouri’s Clean Initiatives and the Clean Tech Bust

Clean technology was forecasted to revolutionize the way we live. Proponents of sustainable development long predicted the end of our ongoing addiction to fossil fuel. Recently however, the clean tech bubble has burst and effects of that can be seen at the local level. The shale boom, heightened competition among global manufacturers, mainly China, and less-than-conducive national energy policy has led to a lack-luster uptake of clean mechanisms throughout the nation.

Veolia Energy, Kansas City, Missouri

The United States Department of Energy (US DOE) envisioned a decentralized, national Clean Cities program in order to further American economic and environmental stability and ensure energy security by collaborating with local actors and reducing petroleum consumption. This coalition brings together diverse stakeholders in the public and private sectors to assess the implementation and usage of alternative and renewable fuels, fuel economy improvements, and emerging technologies, primarily in the transportation sector. The DOE incentivizes, via government-industry partnerships, will add up to around a hundred coalitions working with around 6,000 local programs. But the diminishing trend of the clean tech promise threatened the infrastructure that the program envisioned.Despite these developments over the years, Kansas City, Missouri and its peripheries have deeply invested in clean transportation initiatives under the auspices of the Clean Cities program. The City of Kansas City has devised many outward implementations of renewable energy based transportation around the city’s busiest routes. The county has also switched to more sustainable methods of using resources, besides Green Building Permits and Green Transit Incentives. Other actors, such as the Metropolitan Energy Group, an environmental non-profit, administer relevant grants and funding under the Clean Cities initiative in the transportation sector. As a result of the ongoing endeavors, in 2010, Kansas City created almost 4,000 jobs with a 0.4% clean tech share, which led to it being ranked at #6 on the Top 10 list of “CleanTech Metro areas” by the Brookings Institute.

Clean energy supporters in St. Louis, Missouri

However, even at the national level, the clean cities initiatives are not immune from criticism – most of the funding for these initiatives is geared towards carbon-based liquid fuels and non-plug in hybrids, although there are few provisions for electrification and charging stations. Another issue was the lag between policy and technology as the programs’ focus seem to be moving back and forth between fuel sources; Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and propane in early 2000s, biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel in mid 2000s, to electric vehicles in the last few years of the first decade of the new millennium.

These criticisms do raise some insightful questions – are the program objectives just being moved around while policy catches up to new breakthroughs in technologies? Do local actors suffer as a result of this aimless and moving target? At the local level, are these novel transportation feedstock changing the systems for the better, or packaging old infrastructure in a new way?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Sunny Sanwar

Sunny Sanwar originates from Dhaka, Bangladesh, and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. He holds a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kansas and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Sunny is also a Columnist for the Daily Star, the largest English newspaper in Bangladesh, and is currently working in local government at Jackson County, Missouri. This multicultural and interdisciplinary background gives him a holistic understanding of socially sensitive issues in energy and environment around the world. His graduate dissertation thesis in Public Policy dealt with local level emissions reduction strategies. His 2008 "efficiency over performance" project called the KU Ecohawks, aimed for urban transportation to not rely on conventional fossil fuel sources that pollute the local and global environment, but instead run on local wastes. Completely off grid, the mono-crystalline solar cell powered workspace charged the cars, with no energy taken from the main power lines. He also founded the Sustainable Built Environment Initiative in his native Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, which was renamed Bangladesh Green Building Council (BGBC) in 2011, when it became the national representative of Bangladesh, as part of the World Green Building Council in Toronto, Canada. Supported by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fellows, the council provides a centralized national board for green building certifications, courses and outreach, as well as consultancy services to private construction firms, think tanks and government initiatives.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, February 6th, 2014 at 9:33 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Environmental Design, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics, Housing, Infrastructure, Land Use, Sunny Sanwar, Technology, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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