POWHATAN – Powhatan County Public Schools has been chosen as one of 16 localities around the state to receive electric school buses as part of a Dominion Energy grant.
By the end of 2020, PCPS is expected to add two electric school buses to its fleet, which at this point runs on diesel fuel, said Dr. Eric Jones, superintendent. The expectation is that the electric school buses will help reduce the division’s carbon footprint while also lowering maintenance costs on those vehicles.
Jones informed the Powhatan County School Board at its Jan. 14 meeting that staff had received word earlier that day of being awarded the grant. More information is still coming and there will be a cost to the county that has to be finalized, but the initial news of winning the grant was met with great enthusiasm.
“We are excited about this new technology and another step with us going green and hopefully saving some money in the long run through this new technology,” Jones said.
The initial phase of the electric school bus deployment aims to have 50 buses fully operational within Dominion Energy's Virginia service territory by the end of 2020, according to a release from the company. Phase two of the project, with state approval, would expand the program to bring 1,000 electric school buses online by 2025. Phase three would set the goal to have 50 percent of all diesel bus replacements be electric by 2025 and 100 percent by 2030.
"We are excited to move forward with our commitment to bringing the benefits of electric school buses to the customers and communities we serve," said Dominion Energy chairman, president and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II. "This is an innovative, sustainable solution that will help the environment, protect children's health, make the electric grid stronger, and free up money for our schools."
Dominion pointed out that replacing diesel-powered school buses with electric school buses will have a positive impact on the environment and improve air quality since an electric bus produces zero emissions. Replacing a diesel bus with an electric bus is the equivalent of taking 5.2 cars off the road. If fully implemented, by 2025, the program would be the equivalent of removing more than 5,000 cars and their carbon dioxide emissions from the road per year.
PCPS usually pays about $94,073 for a 65-passenger diesel school bus, said Larry Johns, assistant superintendent for finance and business operations. The division’s goal is to replace buses on a 10- to 12-year cycle, but if they are still running well, that time limit can be extended, Johns said. Currently, the division has seven buses that are 15 years old and nine buses that are 14 years old. The division usually purchases eight to 11 buses a year.
The cost for the current diesel buses does not include seatbelts, which would be an additional $9,230, Johns said. The Dominion Energy Grant requires three-point-harness (lap/shoulder) seat belts. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended seat belts on school buses last year, but these are not yet required by federal or state regulations. He anticipates they will be required sometime in the near future.
With the electric buses, the base price of the vehicles would be $104,000 each, which includes seatbelts. The school district would want to add two-way radios and cameras, which is another $4,000, and there is also the option of air conditioning the entire bus, which would be another $11,000. Those would be the costs incurred by the county for each bus.
Dominion Energy is making up the difference in cost between a diesel and electric bus and the cost of the related charging infrastructure, said Audrey Cannon, communications specialist. The total cost of an electric bus is about $350,000, she said. Dominion would pay the balance of the rest of the cost of the bus as well as installing the charging station infrastructure where the buses can charge.
Dominion would also pay to train mechanics and drivers as well as local fire and rescue crews on what to know in case of an emergency, Johns said.
Another important note is that Electric school buses are 60 percent less expensive to operate and maintain, and the school districts get to keep that savings, which means schools can invest more in students, teachers, and learning opportunities, Cannon said.
At their request, Johns will give a more in-depth presentation about the electric buses, possible savings, and costs to the county at the school board’s Feb. 11 meeting.
Dominion has told divisions it will be delivering about half the buses and installing charging stations in August and the rest before December. Johns is hoping to hear soon which group Powhatan will be in since the timing of paying for Powhatan’s portion of the bus affects which budget cycle it falls under.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.