The MPCA relies on electric school buses to improve student health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions
For many children, it is part of the daily way to school to stand on the curb of a bus stop and inhale the exhaust fumes of a stationary bus. Not only are these diesel exhausts considered to be carcinogenic to humans, with children being particularly vulnerable as their airways are still developing, but, along with other vehicles in the transportation industry, it is a major contributor to Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But now the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is hoping to reduce the number of diesel buses serving schools with a pilot that has given five bus sellers and school districts $ 2.1 million in grants to buy eight electric buses.
The districts that will get electric bus subsidies through the pilot are Faribault Public Schools, St. Paul Public Schools, Columbia Heights Public Schools, Morris Area School District, Fergus Falls Public Schools, and Osseo Area Schools. The pilot will fund up to $ 275,000, or 75 percent, of each electric bus, with the counties and / or providers responsible for the remaining costs. (Most school districts outsource transportation to outside bus companies.)
The subsidy is considerable given the high prices of electric buses. An electric bus can cost in the upper range of $ 300,000 when compared to diesel buses, which typically cost around $ 80,000. Before the MPCA pilot, only one school district in the state – schools in the Lakeville area – had an electric bus.
The pilot is funded under the Volkswagen 10-year agreement, from which Minnesota received $ 47 million.
Address issues in the districts
MPCA had already tried a similar pilot project in 2018, but received very few applicants.
In order to arouse more interest in the districts, MPCA invited five electric bus manufacturers to meet up, at which the manufacturers discussed their vehicles with school districts and bus companies.
“We really had to develop a pilot that got people applying for these scholarships, and we didn’t know what was stopping them from applying,” said Rebecca Place, MPCA’s EV program administrator. “Are you afraid of the Minnesota winters? Are you intimidated by the cost of the electric bus? “
The districts were given the freedom to choose their own manufacturer, with Osseo opting for a tried and tested winter-grade electric bus for a Canadian company.
“Because they were tested in Canada, we knew they would be a good fit for our winter driving conditions,” said Nick Martini, transportation coordinator for Osseo Area Schools. “They all have fiberglass composite body panels, so these vehicles won’t rust with the salt on the streets, and the same goes for the stepwells where the kids get on the bus.”
Electric buses have a range of approximately 100 miles when fully charged, and the delay between bus routes in the morning and afternoon gives providers the time it takes to fully charge them. North Star, Osseo’s bus operator, has installed five bus charging stations to expand its electric fleet. Two buses are currently operating in Osseo, and a third will be added soon.
Effects on health and climate
MPCA’s Place said one goal of the project is to demonstrate how the electric buses work in every corner of the state, with applicants divided into four geographic zones.
But that’s not the only consideration: applicants are also ranked based on each district’s air pollution, the number of emergency rooms in the area for asthma or cardiovascular problems, and an assessment of the diesel bus to be replaced – a requirement of the project is that the electric bus will replace a diesel bus built before 2009.
Martini said the demographics of the east side of his district was one of the main reasons Osseo was selected out of 47 applicants.
“We know from the past that areas with lower incomes and areas with higher population density are more affected by vehicle emissions because there are more city buses in their area, they have more private vehicles due to the population density,” said Martini. “Our demographic is 50 to 54 percent color students, and we have a higher concentration of color students in the east of our borough.”
According to Place, the project aims to help protect vulnerable population groups from fine particles such as nitrous oxide from buses.
“The electric buses will reduce air pollution in these areas,” said Place. “So we’re hitting exactly the point where we should buy by replacing these school buses so that the children aren’t affected by the diesel emissions.”
The program could also help Minnesota meet targets set in the Next Generation Energy Act, which calls on the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2008 to 2030 (CO2 emissions reduction is also a requirement for programs launched by VW -Settlement to be financed). According to MPCA data, replacing a diesel school bus with an electric bus will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 29 tons over the 10-year life of the vehicle – the equivalent of six passenger cars in the same period. And while MPCA has no data on total emissions from school buses in the state, the combined emissions from the entire transportation industry were 40 million tons in 2018.
According to Place, the MPCA will continue to collect data from the districts on factors such as cost efficiency, energy used and regenerated for the time being, before launching another round of electric school bus grants.
“Electric school buses simply have enormous potential,” says Place. “If we find that they go well together and work well, I hope that there will be a lot of investment in electric school buses in Minnesota in the future.”