Finding the money
Once the foundations have been laid, fleet managers can then start pursuing money. If relationships with potential funders have already been developed, it should be fairly simple once an announcement for applications is made.
Finding funding sources and building relationships is a hand-in-glove process. Today’s reality is there’s less money available, but it’s there. It may just take some additional detective work to find it.
“There are still a few opportunities at the federal level if you know the timing and where to look for them,” Van Amburg says, specifically in the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program run by the EPA and Clean Cities.
Fleet managers will most likely have better luck at the regional, state and local levels, according to Van Amburg.
“Many states — for air quality or energy security reasons — have grant programs fleets can apply for,” he says. “Sometimes, they’re run out of the state energy or environment offices, or sometimes regional air quality offices. The national fleets are looking at California, New York, Ohio and Texas — there are a lot of programs. Each state has individual opportunities.”
Funds don’t have to come just from public sources. There are a growing number of private funders coming on the scene as well.
Some of these are already well-known by fleets that have invested in compressed natural gas (CNG)-fueled vehicles. This funding involves setting up the fueling infrastructure.
In this model, a fueling provider agrees to build the fueling station for the fleet or for several fleets in exchange for guarantees in throughput and a small surcharge on the CNG pumped into the vehicles.
“You’re essentially paying for the station; you’re just paying for it with a little surcharge on the fuel. That’s been working on the natural gas side. I’ve even seen it on the propane autogas side,” Van Amburg says.
Writing the grant
Once the planning is done, relationships forged, and grants identified, it’s time to write the grant.
The first thing that fleet managers need to know is that the process to write the application will likely take longer than they expect.
“You’ve got to set aside at least two weeks for two people to fill out some of these proposals,” Van Amburg says. “Although that could be duration, and not total time.”
Van Amburg advises fleets to lay out a duration time line with the starting point as the submission date and work back to identify benchmark dates, including building in times for approvals from senior management and the operation’s legal department, for instance.
Another issue that may have to be determined is who will be writing the grant. In some large and public organizations, there are expert grant writers on staff. If there aren’t internal resources available, it may make sense to hire a freelance grant writer. And, in some cases, it may fall to the fleet manager or one of his or her subordinates to write the application.
No matter how the grant writing process is handled, there are some points to keep in mind when completing the application, according to Van Amburg, including:
• Having a clear vision of what the fleet wants.
• Understanding what the funder wants, as well, and what it is allowed to pay for.
• Writing to the grant criteria — show how the goals will be met.
• Being concise and to the point and sticking to the facts and not engaging in self-aggrandizement.
• Avoiding being greedy; show how the fleet can be competitive within the projected plan.
Also, during the grant writing process, it should be determined who will be handling the reporting side of the award. This could be handled by a consultant, but since it has to do with the internal processes of the fleet, it could be difficult for an outsider to track.
Many grants come with reporting strings and other requirements attached, and Van Amburg notes that it is important to be fully aware of what those rules are, because failing to follow directions could doom the application to rejection.
“Some reporting criteria, for instance, are pretty streamlined,” Van Amburg explains. “You just have to provide the receipts that you’ve purchased the vehicles, how much fuel you’ve used, and how many miles they are running.”