Minnesota bets on electric school buses

This article was originally published by MinnPost and is republished here with permission.

For many children, part of the daily commute to school is standing along the sidewalk of a bus stop, inhaling the exhaust fumes emitted by an idling bus. These diesel exhaust fumes are not only considered carcinogenic to humans, children being particularly susceptible with their developing respiratory systems, but along with other vehicles in the transportation industry, they are one of the main causes of greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota.

But now the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is hoping to reduce the number of diesel buses serving schools with a pilot project that has awarded five bus vendors and school districts $ 2.1 million in grants to buy eight electric buses.

The districts receiving electric buses subsidized by the pilot program are Faribault Public Schools, St. Paul Public Schools, Columbia Heights Public Schools, Morris Area School District, Fergus Falls Public Schools and Schools of the Osseo region. The pilot project funds up to $ 275,000 or 75% of each electric bus, with districts and / or vendors responsible for the remaining cost. (Most school districts outsource transportation to outside bus companies.)

The subsidy is significant with the high prices of electric buses. An electric bus can cost in the upper range of $ 300,000 compared to diesel buses, which typically cost around $ 80,000. Prior to the MPCA pilot project, only one school district in the state, Lakeville area schools, had an electric bus.

The pilot project is funded under Volkswagen’s 10-year emissions regulations, from which Minnesota received $ 47 million.

Respond to district concerns

The MPCA had already attempted a similar pilot project in 2018, but had received very few applications.

To generate more interest from the districts, the MPCA invited five electric bus manufacturers to meetings where the manufacturers discussed their vehicles with school districts and bus management companies.

“We really had to develop a pilot project that would get people to apply for these grants, and we didn’t know what was preventing them from applying,” said Rebecca Place, electric vehicle program administrator at MPCA. “Are they afraid of Minnesota winters?” Are they intimidated by the cost of the electric bus?

Districts were given the freedom to select their own manufacturer, with Osseo choosing a Canadian company for a proven, winter-friendly electric bus.

“Because they are tested in Canada, we knew they would suit our winter driving conditions well,” said Nick Martini, Transportation Coordinator for Osseo Area Schools. “They all have fiberglass composite body panels and so with the salt on the roads, these vehicles are not going to rust and the same goes with the running boards where kids get on the bus.”

Electric buses have a range of around 100 miles when fully charged, and the time lag between morning and afternoon bus trips gives vendors plenty of time to fully charge. North Star, Osseo’s bus supplier, has installed five bus charging stations in anticipation of its growing electric fleet. In Osseo, two buses are currently running, and a third should soon join them.

Impacts on health and climate

MPCA’s Place said one of the goals of the project was to demonstrate how electric buses work in all corners of the state, with applicants being divided into four geographic areas.

But that’s not the only consideration: Applicants are also ranked based on each district’s air pollution levels, number of emergency room visits in the area for asthma or cardiovascular disease issues, and evaluation of the diesel bus to be replaced – a requirement of the project is that the electric bus replace a diesel bus built before 2009.

Martini said the demographics of the eastern part of his district was one of the main reasons Osseo was chosen out of 47 candidates.

“We know historically that lower income areas and areas with higher population density are more prone to vehicle emissions because they have more city buses circulating in their area, they have more personal vehicles due to the density of vehicles. population, ”Martini said. “Our demographic is approximately 50-54% students of color, and we have a higher concentration of students of color on the east side of our district.”

Place said the project is designed to help protect vulnerable populations from fine particles from buses, such as nitrous oxide.

“Electric buses will reduce air pollution in these areas,” Place said. “So we’re getting to the point where we should buy by replacing these school buses so that kids aren’t affected by diesel emissions. “

The program could also help Minnesota meet targets set in the Next Generation Energy Act, which calls on the state to halve 2008 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2030 (reducing emissions is also a requirement for programs funded by the VW Regulation). According to MPCA data, replacing a diesel school bus with an electric bus will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29 tonnes over the 10-year lifespan of the vehicle, or the equivalent of six emissions. passenger cars over the same period. And while the MPCA does not have data on total school bus emissions in the state, the combined emissions from the transportation industry as a whole in 2018 were 40 million tonnes.

For now, Place said the MPCA will continue to collect data from districts on factors such as profitability, the amount of energy consumed and regenerated, before launching another round of grants for electric school buses.

“There is huge potential with electric school buses,” Place said. “If we find out that they are a perfect fit and work, I hope to see a lot of investment in electric school buses in Minnesota in the future. “

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