Electric school buses are the next generation of transportation
A silent revolution is underway on the rural roads leading to Geronimo Public Schools (GPS). For students filling the seats of three new school buses this fall, their drive will be absent of rumbling engines and diesel fumes.
These students will be a part of paving the way for clean and efficient electric vehicle mobility. Although electric cars have become more common to see traveling across Oklahoma, electric school buses have been few and far between. Thanks to a rebate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a partnership with Cotton Electric Cooperative based in Walters, Oklahoma, GPS will soon be leading the transformative shift from diesel to electric buses in the education sector.
Taking a leap of faith
GPS, home to the blue jays, is a small rural school system in southwest Oklahoma serving nearly 350 students from elementary to high school. Bill Pascoe, superintendent, is proud of GPS’ teachers, support personnel and the community that supports its students.
“We are going in the right direction,” Pascoe, Cotton Electric Cooperative member, says. “Geronimo is really starting to grow.”
With growth comes new costs, and Pascoe was looking for ways to make the most out of the district’s budget. When Heath Morgan, Cotton Electric Cooperative energy efficiency coordinator, sent him information on the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates Program, he was skeptical and intrigued.
Within the program, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021 authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to offer rebates to replace existing school buses with clean and zero-emission (ZE) models. The EPA also prioritized high-need school districts and low-income areas, rural school districts and tribal school districts.
“The more I thought about it, I finally convinced myself I better fill the grant out so we didn’t miss an opportunity,” Pascoe says. “Then when we were selected as one of only a handful of schools in the state it became exciting.”
Estimating operating costs for two route buses based on manufacture specifications, Geronimo Public Schools could see the following annual savings:
Diesel Cost @ $4.33 per gallon = $19,506.65
EV Cost @ 25kw = $4,363.43
Total estimated savings = $15,143.22
Setting the stage
The school is set to receive three LionC 71-passenger buses. The rebate program paid $1.15 million and an additional $60,000 for electric chargers and improvements.
A key hurdle to overcome was EPA funds must not be used for any infrastructure costs associated with work on the utility’s side of the electrical meter. Where these funds were not sufficient to cover the total cost of infrastructure, Cotton Electric Cooperative stepped in to contribute funding for part of the infrastructure improvements needed to implement charging stations at the school district.
According to Morgan, GPS was a “perfect example” for implementing infrastructure.
“We met and looked at the best way to attack this and minimize their construction contribution,” Morgan says. “Cotton Electric works with all of our members to evaluate their options. Our goal is to find the most cost-effective solution that benefits the member and the co-op as a whole.”
Morgan helped evaluate what GPS’ transportation costs would be if electric buses were implemented. The co-op did modeling looking at the rate structure and found the buses would fit the mold for GPS well.
Every day, the buses follow a defined route, and the capacity for the bus was designed from those needs. Furthermore, the brakes charge the bus. Every time the bus slows down or makes a stop, the battery regenerates energy.
The co-op is educating the drivers on demand-based rate, which means the timing and amount of chargers they have running at one time will affect cost of the power. If the school stages the charging as recommended, GPS has the capacity to save about $15,000 annually in operation costs.
“EV buses accomplish the same goal of getting the kids to school safely but in an even better way—no diesel fumes exposure, higher fuel savings and a quieter ride for everyone, “ Morgan says. “It’s a win-win.”
Pascoe says he is ready to see the bus pull into the lots for the upcoming school year.
“It’s fitting going into this new venture as a school district,” Pascoe says. “It’s a learning opportunity for all of us.”
GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING:
Up to 33,000 lbs.
RANGE: 100-155 miles
BATTERY CAPACITY: 126-168-210 kWh