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Marshall University has begun the process of replacing its gasoline-powered landscaping equipment with machinery that operates on battery power, and its South Charleston campus is considering replacing part of its fleet of gasoline-powered vehicles with electric vehicles.

This conversion raises an important question: Why not?

At a meeting of the university’s Board of Governors this month, Brandi Jacobs-Jones, senior vice president for operations, said the Physical Plant is trading out some of its gasoline-powered equipment for battery-powered.

While the Physical Plant isn’t ready to make a full switch to electric, it has invested $53,000 to move to battery-operated items, such as leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, chainsaws, a zero-turn riding lawn mower and more, Jones said.

“We’re not quite ready to turn over all of our motor vehicles, but, as a result, we are making a $53,000 investment to replace all of our landscaping equipment from gas-powered to battery-operated,” she said.

“Here’s something from a faculty member that brought an idea, we’ve taken it, we’ve piloted it, and it’s worked well,” she added. “We were a little concerned and thought that the staff would be apprehensive about trying something new, but they really are enjoying the product.”

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Board members commented on how quiet the equipment would make the campus. Noise abatement alone makes the idea of converting from gasoline-powered equipment to electric equipment worth considering, but there are many other good reasons, of course. Those include reducing air pollution and reducing time and money spent on equipment maintenance.

Jerome Gilbert, who was attending his final board meeting as the university’s president, said the South Charleston campus is researching electric options to replace eight to 10 vehicles nearing the end of their lives. Most of the vehicles’ use is traveling between the Huntington and South Charleston campuses — a round trip of less than 100 miles.

Marshall has the resources to build a charging station at the South Charleston campus or at Huntington, or both, so concerns about recharging the vehicles shouldn’t be a problem. Again, while the initial purchase price could be higher, the long-term savings in using electric vehicles could result in a net savings over their useful lives.

American Electric Power, the parent company of Appalachian Power, has announced plans to convert much of its vehicle fleet to electric power. That’s understandable from a power company, of course. UPS has used tractor-trailers fueled by compressed natural gas for several years.

Large institutions and corporations can afford to lead the way in alternative fuels, where smaller operations and individuals might not be able to afford the upfront costs and other problems that come with being early adopters. Marshall’s experience in large-scale use of electric-powered landscaping equipment and highway vehicles should help the rest of the region determine whether their lifecycle costs, advantages and disadvantages justify such a change for the rest of us.

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