Wrangell only district in Alaska awarded electric school bus grant

The wheels on the bus go round and round, but you might not hear them.

Wrangell was the only school district in Alaska to be awarded with a $395,000 grant last month to purchase an electric school bus through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program.

The awards are the first year of a five-year program totaling $5 billion created by the Infrastructure Act signed into law a year ago.

John Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Transportation, had been approached by a school bus manufacturer in Anchorage about the grant. Taylor Transportation contracts with the school district to provide its buses for students. Taylor forwarded the information onto the district.

“Taylor Transportation … couldn’t apply on their own,” Schools Superintendent Bill Burr said. “They had to be connected to a school and we had certain guidelines that had to be met about where we were, did we qualify for priority status based on size, rurality, population makeup.”

Burr went through the grant-writing process, making sure to list all the pertinent details, including information about the bus that was being replaced, which ended up being “a significant amount of information about that specific bus.”

After submitting the grant, Burr said he helped a couple other school districts with the grant process, though he wasn’t sure if they submitted their applications.

Both Sitka and Valdez school districts applied for the grant but were waitlisted. If any of the other 389 chosen applicants nationwide are deemed ineligible or drop out, waitlisted schools would again be considered. Nearly 2,000 school districts applied.

Of the school districts that were selected for the awards, 99% are areas serving low-income, rural and/or tribal students.

Since there isn’t a way to use clean biofuel or mixed biofuel in town, Wrangell had to opt for an all-electric bus, Burr said. The new electric bus will replace one of the two buses currently used in Taylor’s fleet. Since the aim of the EPA program is to decrease emissions, the bus being replaced would have to be destroyed.

Taylor said due to the age of the bus being removed from the fleet, the frame would need to be cut in half and a three-inch hole would need to be drilled through the engine block. The age of the 2005 bus requires it to be taken out of commission.

Of the grant money, up to $375,000 will go toward reimbursing the cost of a new electric bus and $20,000 will cover the cost of an EPA-approved charging station.

The district will submit the receipts for the bus and charging station to the EPA, while Taylor will deal directly with the manufacturer.

Taylor said he’s comparing costs and weighing the pros and cons before moving forward and choosing a bus. Taylor Transportation has until April to get a purchase agreement. The bus should be delivered by October 2023.

A typical electric school bus can travel up to 138 miles on a single charge and Taylor said the bus that would be replaced goes out to 13 Mile and back, then around the loop. He said it travels about 70 miles during one day of use.

 

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