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Tech Partners Are Ready to Help Transition Schools to E-Buses

Electric bus makers and other technology providers say they are ready to help school districts with grant applications and other planning details to ensure the fast and easy transition to e-buses.

(Lion Electric)
The transition of conventional internal combustion engine school buses to electric versions is quickly scaling up, with bus makers realizing they need to provide more than just the design and development of the vehicles, but grant-writing expertise as well.

“There are a lot of grants out there, stackable grants. It’s complicated. So early on, we realized that we had to help school districts kind of navigate this complicated grant-capture process,” said Nate Baguio, senior vice president at Lion Electric Co., a major maker of school buses.

“It make sense from a capital perspective to go electric right now. And these grants won't always be there. So now is the time to act,” Baguio added, in comments at the annual March 22 Veloz Summit during a panel about the state of the electric school bus industry. Veloz is an EV policy and advocacy group based in Sacramento, Calif.

A large burst of funding now available is some $5 billion in grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was made possible through the massive federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

More than 90 percent of the 480,000 school buses transporting students in the United States are still powered by diesel, said Sue Gander, director of the Electric School Bus Initiative at the World Resources Institute. Federal funding is helping school districts buy not only the buses, but the charging infrastructure they need to operate as well.

“There are hundreds of buses that are going to be deployed as a result, just of the EPA program,” said Baguio. “It’s not just a California thing. This is nationwide. The economic argument for the electric school bus is making this possible.”

Lion Electric is currently poised to deliver 19 e-buses to the East Baton Rouge Parish School System in Louisiana, while another 25 buses are headed to Atlanta.

It’s not just federal funding helping to realize the transition, said Gander. “On top of that, we’ve got billions of dollars in investments being made by states and utilities.”

“We have a great opportunity to address what is really an urgent issue for us,” she said.

A combination of school district, regional, state and federal funding options helped to transition 50 percent of the 62-bus fleet in Modesto, Calif., to electric.

“Now is the right time, and the right idea,” said Gilbert Blue Feather Rosas, Modesto City Schools maintenance and operations director for sustainability and adaptation. The district also developed a solar field to help bring down charging costs, as well as installed conduit for future charging infrastructure. The district is also exploring the development of DC fast-charging.

“It is cost-effective to go with solar and with the battery buses,” said Feather Rosas. “I just want to encourage people, it does pencil out.”

Other cost-saving opportunities can come from vehicle-to-grid technologies, like those offered by Nuvve, an EV charging software company that has already received $24 million in EPA grants funding for schools which can include bidirectional chargers.

The company is partnering with the Cajon Valley Union School District in southern California to participate in a vehicle-to-grid program where electric buses provide power back to the grid when they’re not in use. Revenue generated from the program is shared with the school district.

“We really have that ability to take that entire process and make it simple for the school district,” said Lynn Ames, vice president of partnerships at Nuvve.
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.