Connecticut set to receive $51.6 million to fund clean energy for state's transportation system

A BMW i8 parks at South garage and get charged by the on-campus charge station. New report finds $51.6 million in Volkswagen Settlement Funds headed  to Connecticut could help accelerate all-electric transportation revolution. (Zhelun Lang/The Daily Campus)

Connecticut will receive $51.6 million from a Volkswagen (VW) settlement to help clean up the state’s transportation system, focusing on the purchase of electric vehicle charging stations for the state’s highways and an expansion of all-electric transit buses, according to a recent report from the ConnPIRG Education Fund.

This amount of funds could purchase 154 fast charging stations and 54 all-electric, zero-emissions buses, reducing dangerous pollution and saving money. This could further accelerate a market shift to an all-electric, statewide transportation system, according to a press release.

The funding allocated to Connecticut is a fraction of the $14.7 billion that Volkswagen will pay as a result of their violating federal clean air laws. The company marketed and sold more than half a million vehicles with “clean diesel,” when the cars actually emitted up to 40 times the legal limit of dangerous NOx pollution, according to the press release.

“Volkswagen lied to the American people and the residents of Connecticut paid the price,” ConnPIRG Education Fund State Director Kate Cohen said. “VW’s crime is now a historic opportunity to help clean up our transportation system and accelerate the transition to a cleaner, healthier, 21st century transportation network.”

Governor Malloy will be able to formally request the funds and appoint one of the state’s agencies to develop and administer a plan for how they will be used.

“Connecticut’s share of the Environmental Mitigation Trust, if spent wisely, can represent an important down payment toward electrifying our state’s transportation system,” Cohen said. “The $51.6 million in funds is sufficient to purchase up to 154 electric vehicle fast charging, enough to cover the state’s entire highway system, along with 54 zero-emissions, all-electric buses.”

These funds have the potential to encourage Connecticut’s environmental progress in several ways, including influencing residents to switch to electric vehicles, Cohen said.

“Greater installation of electric vehicle charging stations has a direct and substantial correlation on further personal EV adoption,” Cohen said. “Investing in fast charging stations helps ease consumers’ fears of running out of juice while on the road, which remains one of the biggest impediments to electric vehicle adoption, even as the technology and range continue to improve and costs continue to decrease.”

VW’s settlement will also help Connecticut improve its public transportation system, a system composed of “aging, dirty, diesel buses,” according to the press release.

“Investment of VW settlement funds in all-electric buses can decrease toxic air pollution that makes us sick and contributes to dangerous global warming, all while increasing public awareness of zero-emissions electric vehicles and the substantial health and environmental benefits they can provide. This will in turn prompt additional transformation of the current marketplace, increasing benefits for years to come,” Cohen said.

Professors and students at the University of Connecticut noted the various effects that this money could have in Connecticut’s efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

“It is difficult to estimate the potential impact that providing electric car charging stations would have on the state's GHG emissions,” Carol Atkinson-Palombo, a geology professor who specializes in sustainable transportation, said. “Trying to figure that out would require an in-depth study that examined trends in electric vehicle purchases across the state, a good understanding of the particular demographic of people in the state who have purchased electric vehicles, and the location of the estimated 300 existing stations across the state along with an understanding of the travel patterns of the various people who use those charging stations.”

“Together, the insights gained from asking these questions could help to inform a ‘location-optimization’ model that would help the state to determine where to locate the new charging stations to maximize the potential expansion of the electric vehicle market,” Atkinson-Palombo said.

“I think the conversion to electric buses is a great idea,” second-semester environmental engineering major Samantha Coleman said. “It doesn’t change much for passengers, yet it reduces the significant amount of emissions that traditional buses produce.”

However, both Atkinson-Palombo and Coleman said there is still work that needs to be done in order to improve our state’s sustainability in transportation.

“Most people are probably comfortable and used to their cars and realistically may not want to go out and get an electric car unless there are very significant incentives applied,” Coleman said.

“One point that we need to remember about Electric Vehicles is that while it is good to have vehicles that emit less GHGs, it is much better to forgo that trip altogether,” Atkinson-Palombo concluded.


Gabriella Debenedictis is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at gabriella.debenedictis@uconn.edu.