Amherst Magazine

Goodbye, Gas-Guzzler

By Katherine Duke ’05

In the parking lot next to Grosvenor House, off of Route 9, you’ll notice two unusual new features: a small standing structure called a PEP Station and a parking space labeled ELECTRIC CAR ONLY. The Amherst campus can now serve as a pit stop for charging up electric vehicles, and Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS) uses such a vehicle to come to students’ aid, thanks primarily to two juniors who are “very into cars” and eager to see Amherst become a leader in the movement toward greener automotive technology and infrastructure.

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Outside Grosvenor House, electric and hy­­brid cars can charge up at the PEP Station.

George Tepe ’14 is from the Detroit area, and Ian Hatch ’14 has a ’64 Chevrolet Impala that he rebuilt with his own hands. Both believe electric cars are “the way of the future,” says Tepe. Last year, the two students approached Campus Police Chief John Carter and Director of Facilities Jim Brassord with the idea of buying an electric car—they decided on a Chevy Volt—and a charger for the college community.
With Carter and Brassord’s support and guidance, the students secured $20,000 in funding from the administration. Next, Tepe and Hatch asked the Association of Amherst Students for an additional $40,000, which would come out of a surplus fund that is earmarked for long-term capital improvements.

Despite news that the charger was unavailable in purple, “everyone in the student government was in support of the idea,” Tepe says. “But with that much money being spent, they wanted the students to vote on it.” Some 80 percent of the student body voted “Yes” on funding the project. Last spring, Brassord and Carter orchestrated the setup of the new PEP Station.

And now an important  group—a student-run, student-staffed volunteer organization available 24 hours a day to respond to medical emergencies on campus—has a new car. “We thought that ACEMS was an ideal group that deserved the electric car and would be perfect for it,” Tepe says. “They had an old police cruiser, a hand-me-down … an old Crown Vic, which guzzles gas. ACEMS is a big student group, and they do great work for all of the students. They do it for free, and they’re there when we need them, and they deserve a nice car.”

Hatch and Tepe calculate that, compared to the old Crown Victoria, the new Volt will reduce ACEMS’ carbon footprint by about 87 percent—nearly a ton of emissions per year. It’s also more reliable, capable of running on gasoline when the electric charge runs out.

“The Volt is pretty fantastic,” says ACEMS leader Daniel Diner ’14. “For the first few weeks, I would constantly find people admiring it whenever I came to use it.”

On a full charge, the car can travel about 36 miles. On a campus as small as Amherst, Diner says, “we almost never run out of a charge, and we are still running on our first tank of gas. I suspect that we will still be on that tank for quite a while longer.”

ACEMS members aren’t the only ones who can charge up on campus. The PEP Station will work for any electric or hybrid vehicle produced in North America, by means of a special type of card obtained from Campus Police. The charger is available to the entire college community. Carter notes that one alumnus used the charger over reunion weekend in May.

Photo by Rob Mattson