For years, NIUâs cutting-edge fleet of environmentally friendly vehicles has been noticed and praised by its peers.
Now it has caught the eyes of state officials.
This month, university transportation officials learned the Chicago Area Clean Cities coalition and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency have designated NIUâs cache of cars and trucks as an âIllinois Green Fleetâ for having reduced emissions and requiring less fossil fuel to operate.
The award is an honor, but not a surprise, said Bill Finucane, NIUâs transportation manager.
For years, other universities and agencies have inquired about and lauded the university for voluntarily starting a program that is easy on the regionâs air quality and expense accounts.
Finucane will receive the award Thursday, Feb. 23, during a luncheon at Winberieâs Restaurant in Oak Park.
âItâs great to have the recognition from the state. Weâve worked hard to build this program,â Finucane said. âBut weâre used to having other agencies call us up and asking questions about it.â
When they do, Finucane tells the curious that 160 of the 245 vehicles the university owns and operates are hybrids or use alternative fuels. Many of them are the Toyota Prius models driven by campus police officers.
If university administrators had their way, the entire fleet would use non-conventional fuel, the transportation manager said.Â Unfortunately, they must wait until more hybrid or alternative-fueled pick-up trucks are built.
Meanwhile, Finucane explains to the curious that NIU started building its environmentally friendly fleet in 2004. Since then, he has estimated that $300,000, or 100,000 gallons in fuel, has been saved.
âSome of our savings come in running our hybrid police squad cars,â he said. âWhen they warm up, the gas consumption shuts down and electric motors turn on. Thatâs important when the cars are idling while the officers are writing reports.â
Mileage on those vehicles gives NIU 40 miles per gallon instead of 8-10 miles per gallon used in traditional police vehicles.
IEPA officials has been watching the creation of NIUâs alternative fuel fleet and has been impressed with its forward thinking, said Darwin Burkhart, chairman of the Chicago Area Clean Cities coalition.
âNIU started this initiative 15 years ago when the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel were very low,â Burkhart said. âLook at them now. Weâre paying a lot more for diesel and gasoline. Northern has been the leader of using alternative fuel before anyone else thought of it.â
The universityâs fleet has also caught the eyes of its faculty and staff, who have asked the same questions and purchased hybrid vehicles based on the answers, Finucane said.
by Gerard Dziuba