In early August 2021, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, in the Gwinnett County suburbs northeast of Atlanta, to visit the city’s Curiosity Lab, located in the reborn Technology Park property undergoing a generational facelift. The $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed the U.S. Senate will mean $1.5 billion for public transportation and $135 million for EV charging infrastructure in the state, part of the measure’s $7.5 billion investment in a national network of EV charging stations. Even as modifications by the U.S. House of Representative may further inflate the act’s total costs, major infrastructure work is in the offing nationwide, and Georgia will be a major part of the picture.
“The climate opportunity is also a jobs opportunity, in the president’s view and in my view,” said Secretary Buttigieg from the Atlanta suburb. “You see it right here. Just a moment ago we were looking at a solar roadway that can literally power the very cars that drive over it.”
Noting the momentum behind EV adoption and the shift to EV manufacturing by automotive manufacturers as a presidential executive order aims to have half the nation’s vehicles be emissions-free by 2030, he said, “This is incredibly important at a time when we recognize that the single biggest sector contributing greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is the transportation sector. To me that’s a challenge for us to be the biggest part of the solution. What we see here is how economic development and climate solutions go hand in hand.”
Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry added, “It is an exciting time in transportation. We are on the heels of the largest bipartisan investment in transportation infrastructure in this nation’s history, and that is a good thing for all of us.” The act also includes major planks addressing bridge repair and renovation; public transit; airports and ports; renewable energy; and rail improvements.
The Georgia Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance (EMIA) adds still more ballast to the state’s mobility future. Announced by Governor Brian Kemp in July 2021 and led by the Georgia Department of Economic Development, EMIA is a statewide initiative among government, industries, electric utilities, nonprofits and other relevant stakeholders that is focused on growing the e-mobility ecosystem in the state and strengthening Georgia’s position in electrification-related manufacturing and innovation. The state leads the Southeast for the number of EV registrations per 1,000 registered automobiles.
Layers of Innovation
McMurry said new mobility technology such as that on display in Peachtree Corners could be looked upon as the most transformative since the invention of the car. And he hailed the major role Georgia is playing in the deployment of electric vehicles. Leading the way are major investments from companies such as SK Innovation (EV batteries) and Blue Bird, which is now manufacturing electric school buses at its signature facility in Fort Valley and delivered the first one in Georgia in April 2021 to Fulton County Schools in Atlanta.
The corporate investments also are coming from firms that will contribute directly to national EV infrastructure: Heliox, a Netherlands-based global provider of fast-charging systems for all modes of e-mobility, announced in May 2021 it would establish its North American headquarters in Atlanta, creating 70 new jobs. The company’s Georgia expansion will create more than 70 clean-energy jobs in the region within the next year.
“Atlanta is the perfect launch pad for our North American operations. Locating both the headquarters and the research and development training facility in Atlanta, we will be close to our customers to offer the highest level of support and service. In addition, the local talent available in the city and universities will fuel our rapid growth,” said David Aspinwall, president of Heliox North America. “It is an exciting time for the electric vehicle market, and we are excited to grow our technology in the U.S.”
Project Manager Fernanda Kirchner represented the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s (GDEcD) Global Commerce division on this project in partnership with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Power. The company has also been working closely with Georgia Tech on developing internship programs and opportunities for further R&D partnerships. GDEcD’s Georgia Center of Innovation energy team has worked for several years to develop the state’s charging infrastructure and supported development of Georgia’s EV ecosystem.
Georgia Power continues to be a leader in e-mobility efforts. The utility recently partnered with Cox Automotive brand Pivet and EV charging network provider ChargePoint to deliver one of the Southeast’s largest EV charging single property installations. Located between downtown Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the station is strategically positioned to serve south Metro Atlanta, and will specifically serve Georgia Power fleet electrification, the Lyft Express Drive program, and other fleets in the area requiring a large-scale charging solution.
Meanwhile, Southern Company, Georgia Power’s parent company, has joined five other energy companies in their efforts to ensure electric vehicle (EV) drivers have access to a seamless network of charging stations connecting major highway systems across significant regions of the country. The Electric Highway Coalition — made up of Southern Company, American Electric Power, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority — wants to collaborate on a network of DC fast chargers from the Atlantic Coast through the Midwest and South and into the Gulf and Central Plains regions. Southern Company and the other companies are each taking steps to provide EV charging solutions within their systems’ service territory.
When I asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg about the impact of infrastructure on corporate location decisions and economic development, he told me, “As a former mayor I’ve been there, trying to drive that site selection and encourage people to choose this community over every other community … You can have the most innovative spirit in the world, but if the roads are crumbling or the bridge is out or you’re not sure about the condition of water or other basics, or you can’t get on the internet, you’re not going to be in that final round. What I’ve found is that by the time you’re in that final round, by the time your chamber president and mayor get to see the folks coming through making the decision, they’ve done a lot of the math around land, labor, utilities, taxes and so on. They really want to know where the energy of the community is, and whether it’s forward-looking.”
By all indications, Georgia’s not only looking forward to that future, but moving forward with the infrastructure needed to realize it