November 27, 2017 Categories: Clean Energy Fossil Fuels Low-Carbon Fuel

Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Electric School Buses are Transporting Kids to School and a Cleaner Future

NextGen Policy Center

by Milena Paez

This post was guest-authored for NextGen by our Coro Fellow, Tim Ryan

Just over a year ago, we wrote a blog post about the benefits that electric school buses offer to the health of our children, our environment, and our electrical grids. Electric school buses can provide a vital solution for our kids and the health, climate, and financial issues that school districts and their communities face. Although the benefits of electric school buses have long been clear, the path to bus electrification was not. That’s finally starting to change, and you can help this movement accelerate here.

California is becoming a global leader in deploying electric buses in its local school districts. In May of 2017, three school districts in Sacramento County launched a bus electrification pilot project that supplied a total of twenty-nine zero-emission, all-electric buses across these three districts. This pilot program was funded by revenue from California’s cap-and-trade program, through a $7.5 million Air Quality Improvement Program (AQIP) grant and administered by the California Air Resources Board. This pilot represented the largest deployment of zero-emission electric school buses in the United States at the time. The three beneficiary districts are Twin Rivers Unified School District, Sacramento City Unified School District, and Elk Grove Unified School District, and the new electric school buses will be dedicated to serving routes in disadvantaged communities within those districts.  

Since the announcement of the electric school bus deployment in Sacramento, a number of other California school districts have begun efforts to electrify their fleets as well. In June of 2017, sixteen southern California school districts were awarded a total of $8.8 million for the purchase of thirty-three electric school buses and charging infrastructure. In September of this year, Colton Unified School District in Los Angeles purchased two electric buses to add to their fleet. In the California Foothills, Calaveras Unified School District placed an order for three new electric school buses to begin serving students in the summer of 2018.

A few key state incentive programs are helping accelerate this transition. One of the primary drivers is the Carl Moyer Memorial Air Quality Standards Attainment Program, which supports the previously mentioned sixteen Southern California districts to initiate their electrification efforts. Another key source of funding comes from the Hybrid and Zero Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), which provides funding vouchers of up to $110,000 for the purchase of cleaner trucks and buses in the state. Other creative solutions to speeding the adoption of cleaner buses have come through smart investment of revenue from California’s cap and trade program toward grant opportunities for clean energy projects, as seen in the Sacramento County pilot program.

Other states, are making progress, too. Chispa, a Latino community organization branch of the League of Conservation Voters, has initiated organizing efforts in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Maryland, and Connecticut to advocate for clean school bus transportation in communities of color. Chispa has also partnered with the Environmental Law and Policy Center to begin similar advocacy efforts for zero-emission school buses in nine Midwestern States.

In Chicago, school district administrators have discussed utilizing money from the Volkswagen Clean Air Act Civil Settlement for the purpose of replacing diesel school buses with all-electric school buses. A school district in St. Paul, Minnesota had the same idea, and has developed a plan to electrify their bus fleet with the support of VW settlement money.

Moving forward, the economics of school bus electrification will continue to improve. Schools are ready now to go beyond the pilot project phase and into a phase of broader implementation. And, as recent state election results show, Americans want bold action to improve our air, protect kids’ health, and spur the growth of a clean energy economy. Electric buses will pave the way to a healthier, more prosperous future, and, for now, at least, states and local governments are in the driver’s seat.

Tell your governor: Use VW settlement money to switch from dirty diesel school buses to zero-emissions electric school buses!


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