School District poised to acquire three new all-electric school buses

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The diesel-belching school bus will soon be an endangered species in Winters. With only charging-station infrastructure money to be found, the Winters Joint Unified School District is poised to take possession of three new all-electric school buses.

Each bus, with a range of 125 miles, costs more than $425,000. And for each bus, the district will pay $0.

The zero-sum cost for the buses comes from district staff acting quickly on a funding opportunity.

Quick thinking, and a small district willing to take a big chance on the future, paid huge dividends in helping Winters find the funding for the buses.

“Two years ago we reached out to the Winters School District about a program to fund electric buses,” Sacramento Air Quality Management District Vehicle and Engine Technology program supervisor Mike Neuenburg said.

The funding, through the Sacramento Emergency Clean Air & Transportation (SECAT) program, was granted on a first come, first served basis and, according to Neuenburg, Winters was one of the first to apply to the program.

However, the $100,000 from SECAT was not going to put any “magic” buses on Winters roads.

Dave Anderson, from Canada-based electric bus manufacturer The Lion Electric Co., called and informed the District about funding opportunities available to Winters according to Kathy Colagrossi, District acting chief business officer.

“We know that someone who does not do this every day may not know what funding is available,” Lion Co. vice president of marketing & communications Patrick Gervais said. “That is why we have a full-time staff of three working on finding grant funding for electric buses.”

In September 2019, Lion sent the district a quote for three electric buses. The quote included the SECAT grant and a grant Lion found for $220,000.

The $220,000 was coming from a Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) through the he California Air Resources Board (CARB), in partnership with CALSTART, a nonprofit organization working nationally and internationally with businesses and governments to develop clean, efficient transportation solutions.

That still left a huge number on the Lion quote: $315,086.91.

However, because Winters, through the help of Lion, found HVIP money, the Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District (AQMD) was able fund the final amount needed.

The Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District (AQMD) was able to leverage “substantial funding from the Sacramento Emergency Clean Air and Transportation Grant Program (SECAT) and the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP),” Yolo-Solano Air Quality Management District public information officer Anna Champe explained.

In other words, the $2 vehicle registration fee local air quality district residents pay for each vehicle was going to good use. And according to Champe, the Yolo-Solano AQMD is sending Winters $315,087. This leaves one final funding hurdle to jump through.

Colagrossi said Winters JUSD is waiting for infrastructure costs to be determined by the plan design. PG&E is tasked to design the infrastructure from the street to the transportation yard.

“PG&E will also pay 50 percent of the cost of the bus chargers,” she added.

Including creating and outfitting charging stations, that plan design cost could be anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000, Colagrossi said. Even at that amount she said it is cost effective due to the offset in savings from the electric buses over diesel buses.

The most obvious cost savings is not having to buy diesel fuel.

With 30 Lion electric buses in his district’s fleet, Tim Shannon, Twin Rivers Unified School District director of transportation, detailed their average cost is about 19 cents a mile with electric compared to 86 cents with a diesel bus.

With only about 26 moving parts on an electric bus, there is also considerable savings on maintenance, he said.

As for battery life, Shannon explained that his fleet is only seeing a two percent battery degradation after three years. While the batteries are guaranteed for an eight-year life, he is projecting a 15-20 year life. Because the buses are so quiet, an electronic sound is played from the bus at speeds below 15 miles per hour, so people know they’re coming.

The public can expect to see and hear the buses in about six months, following approval from the Winters JUSD school board.


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