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Electric Buses: A Win-Win-Win for Schools, Rural Utilities, and GHG Mitigation

There’s a lot to like about electric school buses: lower operating costs, healthier air for riders and neighbors, no direct GHG emissions, a quieter ride, more torque for climbing steep slopes, electricity revenues and the potential for V2G demand response for utilities. The biggest negative is the upfront cost, which can be two to three times more than for an equivalent diesel bus. But thanks to new state and federal funds electric bus adoption is growing rapidly. BEL’s utility partners are facilitating this growth by helping their local school districts access funding.

The surging interest in electric school buses can be seen in the response to EPA’s first round of grantmaking for its Clean School Bus Program grants. After receiving “overwhelming demand from school districts across the country, including in low-income communities, Tribal nations, and territories,” the EPA raised its original $500 million funding pool to $965 million. EPA also announced that more than 90% of applicants sought electric buses, with about 9% requesting propane engines and 1% compressed natural gas.

In many cases, electric utilities have been key partners to school districts, helping them craft their grant proposals. For example, Mountain Parks Electric (MPE), a co-operative based in Granby, Colo., has helped two local school districts win a mix of state and federal funding to purchase three Bluebird electric buses. “The first bus has been on the road for year, performing flawlessly,” said Chris Michalowski, MPE Power Use Advisor. As buses two and three arrive and go into service, Michalowski is especially gratified that the school districts will be spared the cost of diesel. “The price of diesel has skyrocketed this year, while the price of our electricity hasn’t changed.”

With bidirectional charging, electric buses can also be used for demand response on electric grids. Because school buses have consistent routes and duty cycles, their batteries can be discharged to the grid with less complexity than light-duty vehicles. And if they’re not in use during summers, they can provide important summer peak shaving capacity. Stay tuned to the BEL website for case studies of electric utilities using buses in V2G mode.

As BEL seeks to build support for bus electrification, we’d like to hear from utilities and their partners (such as beneficial electrification advocates). Tell us how you worked with school districts by emailing Tracy Warren ( who heads BEL’s school bus program.

And for utilities and other electrification stakeholders who haven’t yet collaborated with schools on bus electrification, we suggest you review the EPA’s list of clean bus awardees to see if school districts in your territory have received a grant. If they have, reach out and talk about what should happen before the bus arrives, such as installing the right charging systems and making any needed enhancements to electrical systems. And be sure to help the district plan a robust community celebration when the bus arrives. Building community awareness and support will be vital to ensuring future funding for school bus electrification.