School district gets traction with electric school bus grant

The Wrangell School District has received the green light to buy an electric school bus through a federal clean energy grant.

In his report to the school board on Aug. 21, Schools Superintendent Bill Burr said the Environmental Protection Agency approved the district for a grant that will go toward a newly built electric bus and charging station.

The grant was almost a no-go just a few months ago.

Working with the district’s contracted bus company, Taylor Transportation, Burr submitted the grant to the EPA about a year ago. The program requires destruction of a diesel-powered bus in order to receive the funds for an electric bus.

Wrangell was the only district in Alaska approved for the grant of just under $400,000 and would be the owner of the new bus. However, Taylor Transportation decided this past spring not to move forward as the operator since owner John Taylor said it wouldn’t be economically feasible and there were too many unknowns, such as maintenance costs and technician availability.

“When (Taylor said) it wasn’t cost-effective, we went on our own,” Burr told the school board.

Though the district will own the bus, it will continue its contract with Taylor Transportation and will want the new bus used for daily rounds.

District staff is considering the parking lot of Evergreen Elementary School for locating the charging station and parking the bus when not in use.

First Student, a nationwide company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, which holds the school bus service contracts around Alaska, got wind of Wrangell’s attempts and donated a diesel bus to the school district to be taken out of service — without ever coming to Wrangell.

It is the first time First Student has made such an offer.

“We were made aware of Wrangell’s situation and realized we could assist by providing the district with a bus that we would be retiring in the near future,” said Kevin Matthews, head of electrification at First Student.

Matthews said the company believes the entire school bus industry benefits by introducing electric school buses no matter where they’re located or who operates the vehicles. “All (electric vehicle) deployments will advance our efforts to provide emissions-free transportation to students and communities, as well as contribute to reducing deployment costs in the future,” he said.

Although First Student doesn’t operate any electric school buses in Alaska, it’s looking to do so in the near future, Matthews said, and it will be dependent on securing funding.

“To date, these funding sources have presented limitations and/or qualifications restrictions that have prevented us from successfully securing funds for our operations in the state,” he said. “However, we are committed to adding electric buses to our fleet, including in Alaska.”

Burr said it will take a minimum of 210 days for Wrangell’s bus to be built and delivered, getting here by late spring of 2024. “All we have to do is drive it off the dock, hopefully.”

 

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