School Transportation News

Largest U.S. Electric School Bus Pilot Comes to California

May 12, 2017

Three school districts in the Sacramento capital region receive a total of 29 zero-emissions electric school buses for a pilot program funded by a $7.5 million grant and additional state cap-and-trade funds.

California had to first clear a legal hurdle with its one-of-a-kind, cap-and-trade fund. An appeals court ruled last month that the program requiring companies to purchase permits for emitting certain levels of greenhouse gases does not constitute an unconstitutional tax and could proceed. It's the largest single deployment of electric school buses nationwide. Canada currently is operating about 60 electric school buses in Quebec.

Earlier this month, Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), said ZEVs including electric buses and trucks are “a smart and effective use of cap-and-trade proceeds.” Her statement was tied to an announcement at the ACT EXPO in Long Beach on May 3 that statewide investments in ZEVs have reached $599 million over the last four years.

Part of this investment counted the 29 electric buses for Elk Grove Unified, Sacramento City Unified and Twin Rivers Unified. At this report, a press event was underway at Twin Rivers to officially display six eLion Type-C school buses from Lion Bus. The event also hosted Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), State Sen. Richard Pan, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty and other officials from CARB, local government and the school district’s administration.

Twin Rivers received 16 new ZEV electric school buses in all, including two more eLions and eight TransTech and Motiv Power Systems eSeries Type As. Meanwhile, Elk Grove is taking ownership of 10 electric buses, and Sacramento City three.

Timothy Shannon, director of transportation for Twin Rivers, explained for STN that the cumulative project began two years ago following a meeting of his local peers to discuss alternative fuel paths. The result was the consortium of the three districts and a 300-page grant proposal. Twin Rivers, Elk Grove and Sacramento City competed with 30 other districts statewide and ultimate were chosen the winners.

“It’s been a process,” he added.

Shannon agreed that the incremental cost of purchasing new electric school buses (retail of $225,000 each) can be a hard pill for districts nationwide, and that is with or without grant money. He said he recognized that California school districts are fortunate to be privy to dedicated state and local funding for electric projects. But the upside can no longer be ignored.

“Start to do the math,” he said on Thursday. “Our grant is for a couple of years and provides free electricity. Nationwide, it’s a regulated fuel. It’s not like petroleum fuels that fluctuate.”

Shannon said the local electricity company is fully funding the school bus charging infrastructure and is providing service of 1,400kW. “Maybe more,” he added. “Eventually we’ll be power to grid.” The electric company has already installed three large transformers on site.
Inverters will be installed on each bus so that when they return to the bus depot in the afternoons they can charge during peak demand times for electric and give back to grid.

“We’ll eventually have enough power to grid that it will offset any energy costs of the buses need, so basically it will be a zero-fuel charge,” Shannon said. “Some of it sounds like pie in the sky, but these are the things that the pilot program will determine.”

Shannon said 16 school bus drivers are already certified to drive the ZEVs, and a few of the buses will go into service this summer. All 16, he added, will be operating routes starting this fall in the district’s most disadvantaged communities.

He also said that Twin Rivers is looking forward to also testing a new ZEV electric school bus being developed by Blue Bird and Transpower and another ZEV from ADOMANI, both of which that are expected to be unveiled this summer, as well as exploring hydrogen. Already, the district is running renewable natural gas for its CNG fleet in partnership with Sacramento Regional Transit.