Durango School District 9-R has been awarded $328,803 to purchase and install a fully electric school bus and related charging infrastructure, thanks to a joint grant application by the school district and La Plata Electric Association.
The bus will have a range of 200 miles per charge, enough to handle 9-R’s average school bus route of 150 miles, said Daniel Blythe, 9-R transportation coordinator.
The cost of an average diesel bus is about $150,000. The average cost of an electric bus is now about $350,000.
LPEA is contributing an additional $120,000 to cover electric charging infrastructure and bus costs.
Blythe said he expects the cost of electric buses to come down as they become standardized and more school districts use them – allowing for the economics of mass production to bring prices down.
Once electric buses come down in price, to around $180,000 or so, to be competitive with a diesel bus, Blythe said 9-R would consider buying an electric bus without subsidies.
Electricity charging costs should provide a savings compared with fuel for a diesel bus, which gets about 7 mpg, Blythe said.
“This is pretty new technology for school buses. So, that’s why the cost is off right now. I think as soon as they get more standardized, prices will come down,” Blythe said. “And I think if we get somewhere close to what we’re spending now on a bus, we would probably be going more with them, even if they do cost a little bit more, because of the savings in fuel and everything.”
Without an internal combustion engine and a transmission, an electric bus should provide some maintenance savings as well, Blythe said.
The bus will take about four hours to fully charge from an empty battery, he said.
The district is also exploring adding propane-fueled buses to its fleet of 37 large buses and seven mini buses. The transportation department also operates and maintains service trucks for schools and three SUVs.
The grant, funded through the Regional Air Quality Council’s ALT Fuels Colorado program, aims to improve Colorado’s air quality by subsidizing replacement of pre-2009 vehicles with fully electric and renewable natural gas fleet vehicles.
Durango School District 9-R was one of only eight grant awardees out of 38 total applicants. The 81-seat bus is expected to be operational by the fall of 2021.
Beyond environmental benefits, the electric bus will bring health benefits.
About 95% of America’s school buses run on diesel and emit tailpipe pollution linked to asthma attacks, respiratory illness and cancer.
Electric buses do not emit any exhaust, eliminating health concerns from emissions.
The bus will also be the first vehicle-to-grid installation in LPEA’s service territory. Also known as bi-directional charging, this will allow the bus to pull electricity from the grid to charge during inexpensive off-peak hours. It will also allow LPEA to pull electricity from the vehicle onto the grid during critical times.
“This is a really cutting-edge project, not just for this area but for the whole state,” said LPEA CEO Jessica Matlock. “Vehicle-to-grid installations are the future because they enable our grid to operate with a higher degree of flexibility.”