Local governments, private university plan to clear the air

Donna Stuckert
Community Information Coordinator
City Manager's Office
City of Evanston, Illinois

Chicago's North Shore made a huge stride toward cleaner air, thanks to three entities whose fleet managers put their heads together. In July, the first known public-private partnership created to reduce air pollution regionally opened a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Fueling Facility.

After three years of research and preparation, two municipalities—the City of Evanston and the Village of Skokie, Illinois, along with Northwestern University, which is privately funded—formed an authority called EVNORSKO (Evanston, Northwestern University, Skokie).

As the partnership evolved, the entities were able to draw upon each other's strengths, pool their resources, save money, assist each other with compliance of governmental regulations, and enhance the environment on Chicago's North Shore.

By combining resources, the partnership succeeded in obtaining one of the first federal grants for the installation of a fast-fill compressed natural gas fueling facility—$300,000 provided by the federal government and the Institute for Gas Technology.

Instead of competing for the same grant, the three entities concluded that a partnership would make an impressive application for the grant for a localized fueling facility. Each of the partners has a significantly sized fleet with notable use in the local area, but by combining the fleets a potential 850 vehicles can be considered in the region's cleanup effort.

The grant proposed purchasing vehicles that would exceed the Clean Fuel Fleet Program requirements; fueling the vehicles with natural gas dispensed from a City of Evanston site; educating the local community about the environmental impact of related issues; modeling this partnership project for others; and demonstrating the total commitment of reducing harmful emissions to the area.

The three partners will share responsibility of the facility with the City of Evanston as the lead agency of the separate Authority, which will own and operate the fueling facility. Northwestern and its vast array of educational expertise will provide educational outreach to the community, the Village of Skokie will provide technical expertise in the selection of vehicles, and the City of Evanston where the facility will be sited will be responsible for the day-to-day operations.

The coordinated management saves costs and utilizes the expertise of all partners. In addition, the coalition will save money by utilizing domestic fuel resources, thereby reducing the reliance on foreign fuels and paying their high prices.

The Authority's plans call for eight to ten vehicles initially, growing to 45 to 50 natural gas vehicles within three years with a potential reduction of 9,600 lbs. of hydrocarbons, 126,000 lbs. of carbon monoxide, and 10,000 lbs. of nitrogen oxides per year.

Ultimately, the Authority hopes to open up the facility to members of the community to further reduce the air pollution on the North Shore. EVNORSKO plans to invite businesses with fleets, such as plumbers and heating and air conditioning maintenance businesses, to take advantage of the cleaner fuel at the facility.

Combining resources seemed natural for Evanston and Northwestern University. The two entities share a property line between their fleet and maintenance facilities, which initiated a convenient cooperation. The City of Evanston is located just 11 miles from downtown Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. Some 75,000 residents occupy 8.5 square miles. Evanston is home to Northwestern University's main campus, which serves more than 11,500 students and approximately 4,000 faculty and support staff personnel.

Staff at the City and University shared areas of mutual benefit, including fueling possibilities for their fleets, and the information exchange grew into serious discussions on the possibility of being mutually compliant with the impending requirements.

In order to make the best-educated decisions, the two sought expert assistance, and Northwestern funded a consultant's services, which assisted the City that had no funds available for such a project. Enter the Village of Skokie whose staff contacted Evanston's inquiring about the City's plans to meet the federal emissions standards.

Skokie is Evanston's neighbor directly to the west. The Village is slightly larger geographically than Evanston and has approximately 15,000 fewer citizens. More than 400 light industries are located in Skokie and therefore it ranks as one of the top manufacturing centers in Illinois.

The consultant ultimately aided all parties involved in the decision regarding alternative fuels usage that would be appropriate for their needs. For example, the Village of Skokie and the City of Evanston both use cars for inspectors and other local area transportation needs suitable for natural gas. In addition, natural gas vehicles were best suited for on-campus facilities management use at NU. Research showed that many of these vehicles were already available from manufacturers.

Donna Stuckert can be reached at 847-448-8085 or at dstuckert@cityofevanston.org.