UConn Getting Green for Going ‘Green’

The University is getting some “green” from the state to help in its continuing efforts to go “green” in its operations.

UConn Transportation Services recently qualified for a grant of $260,000 from a state program to help cover the cost difference to replace several of its old vehicles with clean-fuel vehicles, rather than with traditional gasoline-powered cars.

Hybrid vehicles on Aug. 27, 2013. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

One of the hybrid vehicles in UConn’s fleet. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The move also represents another major step in UConn’s ongoing work toward environmental sustainability and Earth-friendly operations. With most of the new vehicles averaging above 40 mpg, the gasoline savings and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is expected to be significant.

The Connecticut Clean Fuel program grant, distributed by the state Department of Transportation, originally was expected to be about $180,000 when it was announced this summer. When one of the municipalities dropped out of the program, though, the state DOT offered UConn another $80,000, bringing the total number of anticipated replacements to more than 50 passenger cars and trucks.

The old vehicles will be transitioned out of the fleet and replaced by the new “green” vehicles throughout the fall and winter as they are delivered to campus, says Janet Freniere, manager of UConn Transportation Services.

“It’s a win-win for the state, the University, and the environment,” Freniere says.

The commitment to environmentally friendly transportation operations is part of a wider UConn philosophy that prioritizes sustainability in its operations, policies, and curriculum. It’s a mindset that also helped UConn win this year’s top “Cool Schools” honor in the Sierra Club’s annual ranking of environmentally responsible schools.

UConn currently has about 475 vehicles of all types in its fleet, ranging from its passenger buses to heavy-duty utility vehicles, police cruisers, and other emergency vehicles, and light-duty fleet vehicles such as passenger cars and vans.

The new grant will help fund replacements for dozens of the oldest light-duty cars and vans, covering the cost difference between the price of a similar new vehicle and a more costly but more energy-conscious hybrid or electric vehicle.

The differential ranges from about $2,650 to nearly $11,000, so without the state grant, the University would be hard pressed to make such an environmentally important switch for those aging vehicles without making significant cuts elsewhere.

Most of the new vehicles will be hybrid Ford Fusion or C-Max models, hybrid Chevrolet Malibus, and several Chevy Volts. Those cars can run on gas or electricity and can be plugged in at electric vehicle charging stations throughout Connecticut including on campus, in Storrs Center, and elsewhere in Mansfield and statewide.

Like other aspects of UConn operations, the University’s transportation policies prioritize environmental sustainability along with accessibility and cost-effectiveness.

Some of UConn’s other recent environmentally friendly transportation initiatives include a car-sharing program with Hertz On Demand that features ultra-low emissions vehicles; a bike-sharing plan, and assistance in helping find other students with whom to carpool; and the ongoing replacement of several vehicles with lower-emissions vehicles in recent years.

Even when replacement vehicles aren’t hybrids or electric, UConn is strongly urging all of its departments to help reduce emissions by choosing from a preferred list of models that were determined by ranking estimates of EPA fuel economy and emission standards.

Rich Miller, UConn’s Director of Environmental Policy, says although fleet vehicles make up less than 5 percent of UConn’s overall carbon footprint, by switching to fuel-efficient hybrids or zero-emission electric vehicles (EVs), the University will see significant immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions toward its Climate Action Plan goals.

“The higher cost has been a problem, but this grant takes care of that,” Miller says. “Once people drive these clean vehicles, they’ll realize that they’re not sacrificing performance or functionality. They might even decide to switch their personal vehicle to a hybrid or EV, and that will also reduce our carbon footprint from commuters.”