Electric car station plans have W&J center charged up

Rick Shrum

Washington & Jefferson College will get a charge out of this. So will local communities and residents.

The school’s Center for Energy Policy and Management plans to install up to six electric vehicle charging stations on campus this spring, thanks to a recent $25,000 West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund grant.

Although exact locations for the stations have not been selected, W&J Center for Energy Policy and Management director Corey Young said plans call for a pair of stations to be placed at each of three sites: behind the faculty/staff library; near the Campus & Public Safety Building; and in a student parking lot.

Once operating, the stations will be included in tours related to the W&J Living Energy Laboratory. The lab is a free program that intends to enlighten not only W&J students, faculty and staff, but the general public about commercial energy efficiency and sustainability.

“The center is designed for on-campus initiatives, but what makes us unique is we do work in the community and work with municipalities,” Young said.

These interactive lab tours show how the college strives to reduce the amount of carbon it produces. Tours include examination of W&J’s solar array, design of its LEED silver-certified Swanson Science Center and the school’s other energy-saving programs.

About a year and a half ago, the laboratory also got a boost from the West Penn Power fund – a $13,400 grant.

Electric vehicles have been revving up in popularity, despite being more expensive to buy at a price tag of $30,000 to $40,000 than gas-powered equivalents. But the advantages often justify the outlay.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization, listed five reasons to invest in an EV: less costly to operate (a median of $770 in annual savings on gasoline); drastically reduced emissions (equivalent to a gas-powered car getting 73 miles per gallon); easier to drive (quicker acceleration, lower center of gravity); reduced oil use; and convenience.

These charging stations could benefit a number of people on campus.

“We have a handful of students, faculty and staff who have electric vehicles who, hopefully, can use them,” Young said. “We’re hoping the public can use the chargers, but we’re still working out the logistics.”

A long-term goal, he added, is to purchase a fleet of electric vehicles that could be used for security and light work.

“These would be vehicles that don’t go long distances, on campus or around Washington,” Young said. “They would not use gas and, hopefully, save the college money.”

Washington County does not have an abundance of charging stations, but they do exist. They are at Tanger Outlets in South Strabane Township, on Racetrack Road, and in Canonsburg and Bentleyville.

Reaching out beyond campus, however, is a major focus of the energy center.

“The center is working to facilitate energy conservation and energy efficiency,” Young said.

South Strabane experienced this firsthand last year, when CEPM conducted a preliminary energy audit of township services – for free. Max Clark, a research specialist for the center, and Kellie Lesniak, a W&J student researcher, examined South Strabane’s utility bills from 2016 through 2018 for the municipal building, police station and public works facility. The collected data was compared with buildings of similar size and use nationwide.

“The township’s buildings are performing pretty well, but there’s definitely room for improvement at the municipal building,” Clark said.

CEPM suggested changes to improve energy efficiency.

“Townships and boroughs don’t have the money or expertise to do this,” Young said. “Working with them is a win-win proposition.

“Anything we can do to lighten our load is good. This helps students, helps municipalities and, ultimately, helps consumers save money. This would be money that municipalities can use on something else.”

Young, who resides in Oakmont, succeeded Diana Stares as CEPM director in spring 2016. Stares started the center in 2011, the year Young graduated from W&J.

His work includes teaching one class per semester, with a different focus each time. Urban Design policy is the current course, which serves 10 students.

“We draw basic development plans and use the city of Washington as an example,” Young said. “We also have 10 research fellows who work with us who do research that we use.”

CEPM operates in a charged atmosphere that, later this spring, will be more electric.