Report: How PA Utility Companies Can Creatively Invest in Electric School Buses

school busImage by Denise McQuillen/Pixabay
Private investment in electric school buses combined with effective policies show promise as electric bus technology improves

PHILADELPHIA, PA — To protect our children’s health and environment, PennPIRG Education Fund and PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center have released a new report to identify new, cutting-edge ways that utility companies can assist school districts in paying for zero-emission buses, and how schools can reap the long-term benefits.

The vast majority of school buses in the United States run on diesel, a climate-polluting fossil fuel that releases toxic fumes linked to life-threatening health problems such as asthma, bronchitis and cancer. Emitting over 5.3 million tons of greenhouse gases per year, not only are diesel buses bad for our children’s health, they’re also bad for the climate. However, there is a cleaner, safer and more long-term budget-friendly alternative: zero-emission electric school buses.

“Electric school buses are ready to roll, but many schools still aren’t sure how to come up with upfront costs to pay for them” said PennPIRG Education Fund Advocate Emma Horst-Martz. “While electric buses can save and even earn schools money over the lifespan of the bus, the initial price tag often presents a hurdle for cash-strapped districts. Upfront investments by utility companies would help ease the transition and accelerate us toward a zero-emission electric future.”

Utilities can support electric buses by helping to finance the upfront purchasing costs of electric buses, investing in depot and en-route bus charging infrastructure and introducing smart charging to maximize renewable energy use. At the same time, the large-scale adoption of electric school buses can simultaneously create financial benefits for electric utility companies. The report details how electric buses can expand and stabilize the grid, provide surplus energy storage, and increase energy demand.

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The report also includes examples of several utility companies that have already launched programs to help school districts adopt electric buses, including Dominion Energy in Virginia and Portland General Electric in Oregon. By building infrastructure and providing discounted charging, these programs are helping speed the adoption of electric buses, and position utility companies to reap the benefits of widespread electrification. These benefits include grid expansion and stabilization, surplus energy storage and increased energy demand.

On top of health and environmental benefits, electric buses are a financially advantageous choice for school districts. The report shows that with utility investment and advancements in electric vehicle technology, schools can save over $8,000 per year. The savings add up: over the lifespan of an electric school bus battery, schools can save nearly $130,000 per bus. With over 21,500 school buses estimated in use currently in Pennsylvania, that would mean saving a whopping $2.8 billion over the vehicles’ lifespan.

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“Our kids deserve a world without diesel emissions. The transition to a zero-emission transportation sector and a widespread clean energy economy requires coordination between school districts, lawmakers, and utility companies,” said Flora Cardoni, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’s Field Director. “Only by working together can we tackle the existential threat of climate change and accelerate the process towards a zero-emission future.”

Finally, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and PennPIRG Education Fund give the following recommendations for schools, lawmakers and utility companies:

  • Pennsylvania school districts should commit to transitioning to 100 percent all-electric buses by 2030, with a plan to phase out the purchase of new diesel buses immediately. They can also engage with local utilities to help accelerate the adoption of electric buses.

  • Lawmakers should work with utilities and regulators to develop effective electric bus investment programs that protect ratepayers and consumers. They can also develop grant programs to assist school districts with the additional upfront costs of purchasing electric buses.

  • Utility companies should invest in electric school buses. They should also reduce emissions, increase grid capacity and earn money by assisting school districts in financing electric school buses and investing in the charging infrastructure necessary for large-scale adoption.

  • The Pennsylvania General Assembly should pass legislation in support of electric vehicle infrastructure (SB596 in the last session), which will direct the PUC to create guidelines for utility companies developing electrification infrastructure for school buses and transit buses.

  • The legislature could also dedicate some portion of revenue raised from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to go towards an upfront incentive program for school bus electrification.

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“Getting to school shouldn’t include a daily dose of toxic pollution,” Cardoni said. “With school districts, lawmakers and utilities all working together, we can make the switch to all-electric school buses and give our kids a healthier ride to school.”

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