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Electric school buses to debut in Delaware this year

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Electric school buses have the lowest maintenance costs over its lifetime and low greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA. | PHOTO BY ADOBE STOCK/THOMAS

Electric school buses have the lowest maintenance costs over its lifetime and low greenhouse gas emissions according to the EPA. | PHOTO BY ADOBE STOCK/THOMAS

NEW CASTLE – For the first time ever, electric school buses will be on the road this summer for two Delaware public school districts. 

The Colonial School District plans to introduce three electric school buses and one propane-powered bus in July. The district will begin installing the electric vehicle, or EV, charging infrastructure at the end of the 2023-2024 school year for the buses.

The district, located in New Castle, received funding for the four buses from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Rebate Program in October 2022. The $809,000 grant originated from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which allocated $1 billion of a five-year, $5 billion funding for the program to schools across the country.

“Investments in the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to modernize our school bus fleets will help us combat climate change and bring down fuel costs for schools, all while ensuring students in Colonial School District and every state across the country ride to class without breathing in harmful pollutants,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons said in a press release.

A portion of the funding, $39,000, has been allocated for the construction of EV charging stations. The district plans to install three 60 kilowatt charging stations, which will be capable of charging the buses in two to three hours.

The electric buses will be manufactured by Thomas Built Buses and cost $250,000 each, 85% higher than traditional diesel school buses on average. The bus has an operating range of 138 miles per charge, equivalent to 23 miles per gallon, in contrast to the six miles per gallon of fuel for a typical diesel-powered school bus.

According to the EPA, electric school buses have the lowest maintenance costs over its lifetime, low greenhouse gas emissions, zero tailpipe pollution and operate quieter than a diesel school bus. 

The Red Clay Consolidated School District received funding from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control for one electric bus for an undisclosed amount that will also make its debut this summer. 

“Red Clay is proud to be among the first districts in Delaware planning to use an EV school bus for student transportation,” Kelly Shadan, director of transportation, told the Delaware Business Times. “EV school buses improve the air quality for students riding to and from school and they help the environment by reducing harmful emissions.”

The next wave of electric school buses in Delaware will be in 2025. The Electric School Bus Program was enacted last year after Governor John Carney signed House Bill 10 into law, requiring the Department of Education to begin upgrading the current bus fleet with EV and/or other clean energy buses. 

The percentage will increase by 5% each year until 2030, according to the bill which also requires the Department to submit annual reports and a comprehensive report at the end of the program with recommendations for purchases and future measures which could positively impact the environment.

The program requires the clean energy buses to replace older diesel school buses that were manufactured from 2010 or before. Of the current school bus fleet in Delaware, 76% were manufactured in 2016 or later. The fleet also touts over 108 propane buses which operate cleaner than diesel-powered. 

Ultimately, the Department says funding is necessary to implement the program as designed.

“Contingent upon funding, the legislation requires 5% of annual replacements purchased in Fiscal Year 2025 to be electric buses and increasing in future years. If funding is provided, the department will ensure implementation of this bill as intended by the sponsors.” Alison May, public information officer for the Delaware Board of Education, told DBT.

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