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Groups praise NIU for ‘green’ fleet of vehicles

February 13, 2012
Bill Finucane

Bill Finucane

For years, NIU’s 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 NIU’s cache of cars and trucks as an “Illinois Green Fleet” for having reduced emissions and requiring less fossil fuel to operate.

The award is an honor, but not a surprise, said Bill Finucane, NIU’s 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 region’s air quality and expense accounts.

Finucane will receive the award Thursday, Feb. 23, during a luncheon at Winberie’s Restaurant in Oak Park.

“It’s great to have the recognition from the state. We’ve worked hard to build this program,” Finucane said. “But we’re used to having other agencies call us up and asking questions about it.”

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.

A photo of two NIU police cars – Toyota Prius models – parked outside Altgled Hall.

If university administrators had their way, the entire fleet would use non-conventional fuel, the transportation manager said. 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.

“Some of our savings come in running our hybrid police squad cars,” he said. “When they warm up, the gas consumption shuts down and electric motors turn on. That’s important when the cars are idling while the officers are writing reports.”

Mileage on those vehicles gives NIU 40 miles per gallon instead of 8-10 miles per gallon used in traditional police vehicles.

Logo of Chicago Area Clean CitiesIEPA officials has been watching the creation of NIU’s alternative fuel fleet and has been impressed with its forward thinking, said Darwin Burkhart, chairman of the Chicago Area Clean Cities coalition.

“NIU started this initiative 15 years ago when the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel were very low,” Burkhart said. “Look at them now. We’re paying a lot more for diesel and gasoline. Northern has been the leader of using alternative fuel before anyone else thought of it.”

The university’s 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