Climate Spotlight: A ‘money cannon’ is coming

The Jouley, Thomas Built’s electric bus, with a Proterra charger to the right, at the STN Conference/Expo in Reno, Nevada last week. From right, Lisa Lillelund of Proterra, which makes the Jooley’s drivetrain, and Alison Wiley of the Electric Bus Newsletter. Blue lettering refers to Storage Battery. Michelle Levinson photo
March 4, 2022

Will Ashland use it to acquire electric school buses?

By Alison Wiley

Ashland is in the small (and excellent) minority of cities in the U.S. working to reduce its carbon emissions and greenhouse gases (GHGs). That’s to say it has its own Climate and Energy Action Plan.

Transportation, here and everywhere, contributes to those emissions and GHGs.

Alison Wiley

Electrified, tailpipe-less transportation sharply reduces them, and also supports cleaner air that’s healthier –— especially for children, whose lungs are more impacted by pollution than adults’.

Will Ashland become one of the cities that takes advantage of the $2.5 billion “money cannon” that the federal government is making available for electric school buses (ESBs) via its Clean School Bus Program?

The nation currently has 1,738 ESBs on the roads, on order, or with funding secured to order them. That sounds like a lot, but it’s in the context of almost half a million school buses total, about 95% of them diesel (CALSTART). In contrast, the U.S. has more than 3,500 public transit buses that run on electricity. Two of those are here in Southern Oregon, operated by Josephine Community Transit out of Grants Pass.

Stacey Cheshire, the Ashland School District’s Transportation Director, expresses some openness to the idea of the district applying for EPA funds — at some point — for the district’s first ESB. “We’ve been looking at electric buses and talking about them,” says Cheshire. “We’d need to get prepared for the charging infrastructure first. And we’d need to know if the state would reimburse us at the same rate that it does for our other buses, and if it would reimburse for the charging infrastructure.”

Like many districts in Oregon, the Ashland School District’s bus fleet currently operates both diesel buses and propane buses. Propane is somewhat cleaner-burning than diesel, but is still fossil-fueled, using an internal combustion engine. Electric buses and vehicles have no engines, but rather, motors, with propulsion systems that have far fewer parts to replace or maintain than internal combustion engines. Also, ESB’s have no tailpipes, and dispel no emissions into their communities.

Alison Wiley will speak at Rotary of Ashland’s May 12 lunch meeting. Rotary welcomes all visitors. To request a zoom link, or for details about an in-person meeting, contact Nancy Allen at nallenconsulting@gmail.com. Rotary’s website is www.ashlandrotary.org.

Oregon’s first two ESBs got deployed last year at Beaverton School District, specifically on routes serving disadvantaged children. (ESB funding, including that from the national Clean School Bus Program, is prioritized for environmental justice communities, because they breathe the most polluted air while having the worst access to health care.)

Reynolds School District in Portland is also running its first ESBs, and six more districts are either waiting to receive their first ESBs, or getting ready to place orders for them. Oregon’s Department of Energy is supporting the electrification of the state’s school bus fleet with this School Bus Electrification Guidebook.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is in charge of administering the $5 billion of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that’s dedicated to clean school buses. Of that, $2.5 billion is specifically for electric school buses, and the other $2.5 billion is for alternatively fueled school buses, including electric, propane and more. The funding will be administered over five years, starting in April 2022 with a rebate program.

I’d encourage Ashlanders to support the Ashland School District in applying for federal funding for its first electric school bus. In fact, I can help it to apply, and also to prepare for the charging infrastructure it will need. To receive updates from EPA’s Clean School Bus Program as its funding opportunities unfold, go here.

Alison Wiley is the founder of the Electric School Bus Newsletter and of Oregon’s Electric Bus Learning Project.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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