Drivers of Change

Submitted on Thursday, 10/18/2012, at 3:38 PM

By Katherine Duke ’05

Photos by Rob Mattson

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 College campus can now serve as a pit stop for charging up electric vehicles, and Amherst College Emergency Medical Services (ACEMS) now 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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George Tepe ’14 (left) and Ian Hatch ’14, in front of the new Chevrolet Volt they helped to acquire for Amherst College Emergency Medical Services

George Tepe ’14 is from the Detroit area, and Ian Hatch ’14 has a ’64 Chevrolet Impala that he rebuilt with his own hands. They believe electric cars are “the way of the future,” says Tepe. “Major automakers [are now] investing, seemingly for the first time, all at the same time, in electric vehicles.” Last fall, 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, they presented a proposal to Dean Allen Hart in December: The Association of Amherst Students “would pay for the complete installation of the electric charging station, and in exchange, the college would pay for free electricity in perpetuity at the charging station,” Tepe explains. Much of that electricity would come from the college’s cogeneration plant. “And then we split the cost of the Volt.” Hart, in turn, ran the idea by other college administrators, and over Winter Break, they emailed Hatch and Tepe, offering them $20,000 for the project.

The next step was to ask the AAS for the other $40,000, which would come out of a surplus fund that is earmarked for long-term capital improvements. Despite the news that the charger wouldn’t be available 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.” So he and Hatch postered, tabled and created an online presentation in the weeks leading up to an all-student referendum in February. Some 80 percent of the student body voted “Yes” on funding the project. In the spring, Carter and Brassord orchestrated the setup of the PEP Station.

And now an important student group has a state-of-the-art new car. “We thought that ACEMS was an ideal group that deserved the electric car and would be perfect for it…. They had an old police cruiser, a hand-me-down … an old Crown Vic, which guzzles gas,” Tepe says. “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.”

 

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Watch a video of ACEMS members with their new electric 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. And if it ever does break down, Tepe points out, they can “literally push it down the hill” for repairs at the Classic Chevrolet dealership right next to campus. 

“The Volt is pretty fantastic,” ACEMS leader Daniel Diner ’14 confirms. “For the first few weeks, I would constantly find people admiring it whenever I came to use it. On a full charge, the Volt runs for about 36 miles … Our campus is so small, however, that 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.”

But 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 available from Campus Police, so it will be “available for any college [students,] faculty or staff who have electric cars or may acquire an electric car,” says Brassord. Carter notes that one alumnus already used the charger over Reunion weekend in May. And it’s likely that more and more drivers will have use for it in the coming years, as electric cars become more affordable and more common. “Maybe they [will] start to proliferate becausewe provide these stations,” Brassord supposes.

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The Volt charges up at the new PEP Station, installed in the parking lot near Grosvenor House.

Tepe hopes so—and he hopes that more schools across the country will follow Amherst’s lead. With a friend at Johns Hopkins University, he has founded the University and College Partnership for Efficient Transportation.

He imagines the near future: “If you’re in ACEMS and you get to drive the car, [then] when you graduate from Amherst, it’s not weird to have an electric car; it’s more normal….

“People ask you, ‘Oh my gosh, you’ve driven a Volt?’

“‘Of course! You haven’t?’

“‘You plug it in?’

“‘Yeah! Duh. It’s not that hard.’”