New Charging Stations Expected to Boost Electric Car Use, Reduce Emissions

Employees, students offered pricing deal by Nissan dealer
Nissan Leaf charging at Transportation Services
Nissan Leaf
Leaf interior

Five new electric car chargers, including the first level three charger in Massachusetts, are being installed by Transportation Services in the coming months at three locations as part of the effort to achieve the campus’ goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

A pair of public level two chargers will go in during the spring semester at the Robsham Visitors Center and two more at the parking garage. According to Bill Watts of Transportation Services, each unit has the capacity to charge two cars in 4-5 hours for a full charge. The level twos cost around $1,000 each, though much of the funding was provided by the Chancellor’s Office, Parking Services and other sources.

The level three, which can charge a car from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes, will be located at Transportation Services in front of the Enterprise Rent-a-Car branch. Valued at $35,000, it was donated by Nissan USA, though the campus will cover the installation bill, said Watts. While there is still discussion around the price for parking and charging a car at one of the stations, Watts said that it will cost no more than regular parking.

Since President Jack Wilson signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, making UMass Amherst the 15th college in the nation to join the pact, departments have been doing their part to reduce the campus’ environmental impact. One of the ways the university is trying to reduce its carbon footprint is by replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with electric alternatives.

The problem was that there could be no electric cars without electric car chargers, and no reason to have the chargers without the cars. “It was a bit of a chicken-and- the-egg situation,” said Watts. Along with Ezra Small, the campus sustainability coordinator, Watts worked to bring about this advancement in the campus’ green technology. “We’re building the infrastructure to make it easier, better,” he said.

Transportation Services is installing the five electrical chargers as an initial step to encourage employees and students to drive green and reduce carbon emissions from vehicles on campus. Although public interest is hard to gauge at the moment, said Watts, the chargers will also provide crucial data that can be used as a model to determine future expansion.

Watts says the electricity for the charging stations will be produced by the Central Heating Plant. While the plant uses natural gas to generate energy, the electricity goes directly to the cars, as opposed to the power plant fueling the petrol plant and then going to gas to fuel cars. This cuts the vehicle emissions to a quarter of what they would be for gas cars, he said.

Watts has also arranged a long-term deal with Jerry Rome Nissan in West Springfield to offer Leafs, Nissan’s line of electric cars, to faculty and students at the price they are available to the auto manufacturer’s employees.

An enthusiastic Leaf owner, Watts said the offer comes out to $1,000 off invoice and is just one of several ways the all-electric vehicle can save consumers money. Buying one comes with up to $7,500 in possible federal tax credits and Watts estimates that the cost of driving 700 miles in a Leaf is just $20. What’s more, Watts said maintenance costs are a fraction of those of typical internal combustion automobiles. The Leaf has no engine belt, no coolant and no exhaust pipe that has to be repaired and no oil that must be changed. Watts says these cars are “solid and safe with five-star ratings … they’re a lot of fun … sometimes, its just fun to step on it.”

In addition to possibly increasing on-campus demand of electric cars, the new chargers also mean that Enterprise Rent-a-Car can move its four Nissan Leaf models from Northampton to the campus.

The next step, according to Watts, will be to get five units of each level charger on campus along with two level one employee parking stations that will charge an electric car completely in 12-16 hours. “We should do not just one thing, we have to do everything,” says Watts, “It’s the way of the future. We’re going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; we’re going to make this work and we’re going to have some fun doing it.”

For more information, contact Bill Watts in Transportation Services at 545-4682 or at wwatts@umass.edu.

 

Story and photographs by Keegan Henckel-Miller and Meara Geraty, seniors at Amherst Regional High School