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Cars on campus not environmentally friendly

Florida Gulf Coast University is a school that prides itself on sustainability with LEED-certified buildings, a permaculture Food Forest and a colloquium class that’s all about the environment of Southwest Florida. However, a quick look around the campus reveals that one important eco-friendly innovation is missing.

Where are all of the electric cars?

Battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have been getting a lot of attention lately. The trend is partly due to the increase in pollution from internal combustion engines. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, motor vehicles, including non-road vehicles, now account for 75 percent of carbon monoxide emissions nationwide. Polluted air can lead to respiratory infections, damaged crops and depletion of the ozone layer.

To help solve the problem of air pollution, some colleges and universities around the U.S. have made efforts to accommodate hybrid cars on their campuses. North Central College in Illinois has a free dual-charging station for all students and faculty as “part of an ongoing effort to support sustainability values and actions.” Ohlone College in California has seven charging stations, and the University of Maryland has 16.

So why is FGCU — a school that received a STARS Gold rating in recognition of its sustainability achievements —  still so dependent on gas?

The question, it turns out, has many possible answers. FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw points out that the school is happy to accommodate eco-friendly drivers, but only if there is a demand.

“Right now, we don’t have plans to build electric charging stations because there haven’t been any requests. By just looking around, I can tell you that I’ve only seen one other hybrid [on-campus],” Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw is the owner of a 2012 Chevy Volt, a PHEV that gets almost 40 mpg using gas only and about 60 mpg using both gas and battery power. His reserved parking space near Edwards Hall contains the only on-campus charging station, which, according to Bradshaw, was “donated by a local branch of a national company.”

Probably one of the biggest factors preventing BEVs and PHEVs from becoming more common at FGCU is the price tag. Most new hybrids cost somewhere in the range of $25,000 to $35,000. Despite long-term savings on fuel and repairs (electric motors have fewer moving parts, which results in less maintenance), the initial cost is generally not feasible for college students.

The future of electric vehicles is far from hopeless, however. There are more mass-produced BEVs and PHEVs on the market now than ever, and they are becoming more affordable.

“We’re open to change,” Bradshaw said. “I think electric cars are definitely in line with FGCU’s mission.”

Are you a student with an electric, hybrid or fuel-efficient car? You might be eligible for preferred parking — visit http://www.fgcu.edu/Parking/decals.html for a list of qualifying vehicles.

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