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All Aboard: Hundreds of School Districts Funded for E-Buses

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the recipients of its Clean School Bus program last week, awarding 389 school districts some $965 million toward the purchase of more than 2,400 school buses.

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The Peak to Peak Charter School, in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado recently announced a transition to an all electric fleet through a partnership with Highland Electric Fleets.
Submitted Photo: Highland Electric Fleets
School districts across the nation will soon begin transitioning at least part of their bus fleets toward electrification and other forms of cleaner energy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the recipients of its Clean School Bus program last week, awarding 389 school districts some $965 million toward the purchase of more than 2,400 school buses.

“This program will improve air quality in and around schools and communities. It will reduce greenhouse gas pollution. And it will also protect our childrens' health,” said Daniel Blackman, Region 4 administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, speaking in Orangeburg, S.C., on Nov. 1. The Orangeburg Consolidated School District was awarded $6.32 million, which will help fund 16 e-buses.

“When you think of the transformative opportunity this does for especially rural communities that have been left out of the conversation, this is a great day for South Carolina,” said Blackman.

The funding announced by the EPA is part of the more than $1 trillion infrastructure law, passed in Congress last year. This year’s awards mark the first $1 billion of a five-year and $5 billion plan to transition school buses away from internal combustion engines. A similar initiative is afoot for transit buses.

South Carolina will receive some $58 million to go toward school bus transitions, with $25 million of this money going into the Sixth Congressional District, home to Orangeburg, a largely rural area.

“This grant was written to target resources into communities in need,” said Rep. James Clyburn, the longtime Democratic congressman from South Carolina.

The 8,300-student Orangeburg school district has a fleet of 189 buses which travel some 1.3 million miles annually across the county covering 1,200 square miles, said Shawn Foster, superintendent of education for the Orangeburg Consolidated School District.

The 16 e-buses to come from the current grant, plus four previously acquired new e-buses will bring the total to 20.

“With the addition of these buses, less than 10 percent of our total bus fleet will be older than nine years,” Foster told reporters at the press conference, noting 76 percent of the fleet will be five years or younger. “That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

The 16 buses to be bought by Orangeburg can expect to see a lifetime emissions reduction of 6,000 tons of carbon dioxide, said Blackman. And the annual savings in diesel fuel will be roughly $1 million, for the 148 e-buses to be rolling across the Palmetto State.

It’s not just buses in South Carolina making the switch to electric. The Peak to Peak Charter School, in the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado recently announced a transition to an all electric fleet through a partnership with Highland Electric Fleets, which provides a subscription-like service that includes buses, financing and servicing as part of a 10-year contract.

"Without the expertise of Highland Electric Fleets, Peak to Peak would not have been able to build an electric bus fleet from the ground up," said Sam Todd, executive director of operations at Peak to Peak Charter School, in a statement. "Their knowledge of this new electric bus frontier and available grants make the program affordable. It is a dream come true for our school and our students."

Highland signed a similar deal last year with the Montgomery County Public Schools district in Maryland, a district that operates some 1,400 school buses. And most recently, Highland announced a new partnership with CPower Energy to use the buses — which are essentially large mobile energy storage units — to aid in electric grid stabilization.

Electric buses have often been touted for not only their operational cost savings and zero emissions, but also the role they can play in vehicle-to-grid use cases.

“I think we’re really excited about the potential for growth in this market and we see a lot of potential in the future,” said Claire McConnell, vice president of strategic partnerships at Proterra Inc. The company is a maker of the batteries used by a number of buses, particularly those made by Thomas Built Buses.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.


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