Betz also has clean diesel and older diesel buses in his 21-bus fleet. “When people say [an] electric bus is cheaper in the long run, I don’t know about that,” he questioned. “An inverter went out, and a new one [costs] $8,000. It was under warranty, but the bus was less than two years old, so a lot would depend on how long those inverters last.” Topping many lists as one of the coldest areas in

the U.S. is Fargo, North Dakota, where the West Fargo Public School District has the state’s first electric bus. “The 72-passenger conventional bus cost $314,000,

about three times that of a similar diesel,” said Trans- portation Director Brad Redmond, adding that half the money for the Blue Bird bus came from the local utility and from state grants. “With maintenance and fuel savings, we should be able to recoup the cost over the lifetime of the bus, about 15 years. The downside is the range.” However, when looking at the overall energy costs,

Redmond found that the average cost to operate diesel buses was $0.42 per mile, while the electric bus costs $0.14 per mile. He said the only performance issue with the electric bus is loss of range in colder weather, with energy being diverted to heat the interior. “Technology is changing so fast that if we were to

buy the same electric bus today, we’d get a faster char- ger in the bus,” Redmond observed. “There are things Blue Bird is doing, like putting a winter package on it, with insulating blankets to keep batteries warmer, and pre-heating technology so the interior is already warm when you leave.” Redmond said the charger came with the bus, and

it cost about $1,000 to wire it in. The utility company put a meter on it at no charge. He found the highest monthly charge was $138, compared to an average cost of $366 with the diesel buses. “On the whole,” Redmond added, “this has been a

fun project and an interesting adventure. Getting to know the utility people through this partnership was great. They put our whole building on the off-peak rate. Those savings almost cover the energy for the buses, which really make a big difference. Our cost of plug- ging in 54 diesel buses through the winter was insane.” Most experts agree that as technology improves and costs go down, electric buses may have the opportunity to provide more than transportation. Davar said he foresees a fleet of electric buses as back-up power sources in emergencies, and a future of solar energy charged buses that generate revenue for schools as the grid buys power back. ●

Protect Your Grant Funding Amid all of the COVID-19 school

closures and drains placed on state governments, what has become of the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund? Joe Annotti, vice president of programs for alternative fuel consultant and event producer Gladstein, Neandross & Asso- ciates (GNA), said grant funds are not in peril. Yet, anyway. “We have not yet seen any programs

outright canceled, but there has been some chatter about it,” he told School Transportation News in May. “The VW funds are highly unlikely to disappear. Those funds were created by a federal lawsuit. However, state budgets could al- ways be repurposed, so funding for those programs could potentially be at risk, if the federal government doesn’t step in to provide sufficient support to the states.” He added that GNA is seeing delays in

some other local programs opening, for example ALT Fuels Colorado, or extend- ed application deadlines, like the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Carl Moyer Program in California. If a school district already won a VW

grant on paper but has yet to receive the money, Annotti advised that it must push the state agencies to finalize the contract. “An award is great, but it’s not real

until there is a contract in place,” he explained. “We see a lot of delays happen because the awardee, the school district in this case, assumes that because they won the award, that everything is good. That is not the case.” If a contract is already in place, he said

then it’s up to the school district to satis- fy the terms outlined in the contract. “If they do so, then they will get their money,” he added.

—Ryan Gray 39

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