Cooper announces $30M for ‘Clean School Buses’

Governor Roy Cooper speaks during a press conference at the Community School for People Under Six in Carrboro, NC on Thursday, October 7, 2021. (Julia Wall/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper’s office issued a press release17 OctAnnounced more than $30.1 million in funding from the NC Volkswagen Settlement Program for new “clean school buses.” The awards will fund 161 new buses statewide, including 43 new electric school buses.

More than $16.5 million of the funding will go toward 43 electric school buses and associated charging infrastructure.

“Today is a good day for the health and wallets of North Carolinians as we continue our journey toward clean transportation,” Cooper said in the release. “The transition to cleaner school buses reduces greenhouse gas emissions, lowers costs for our schools, creates great manufacturing jobs and reduces pollution in our poorer communities.”

Funding comes from Phase 2 of the NC Volkswagen comparison programwhich holds the remaining $68 million of the state’s interest in a national settlement with Volkswagen.

Grant recipients include public schools, charter schools and one tribal school in 84 counties. 130 buses will be replaced in rural areas. While the buses are being replaced, the old buses will be destroyed “to ensure they no longer pollute the air in communities near schools,” the press release said.

“The move to new low- and zero-emission school buses has immediate public health benefits for the children who ride them and improves air quality in our communities,” said Elizabeth S. Biser, Secretary of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

According to the press release, the new buses “will reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 126 tonnes over their lifetime.

The full list of awarded projects can be found at DEQ’s website.

DEQ has awarded more than $1 million from the settlement funds to state agencies to install Tier 2 zero-emission vehicle charging infrastructure. The 103 charging ports will be installed at 25 locations on government lands ranging from parks to colleges to office buildings.

Thirteen chargers will be used for state agency fleet vehicles and to “support Governor Cooper’s efforts under Executive Order No. 80 to transition the state motor vehicle fleet to zero-emission vehicles, while the remainder will be available for public use.”

DEQ continues to accept rebate requests for Stage 2 charging infrastructure installations at workplaces and apartment buildings. Applications will be made on a first come, first served basis and will continue until all funding is exhausted. Information on funding and applicationare on the DEQ website.

Electric school buses have been criticized for their cost, which can be up to three times higher than a gasoline/diesel bus, averaging $400,000 per vehicle. Electric bus awards listed by DEQ show costs ranging from $368,864 to $426,827.

In addition, charging stations can be expensive and take up more space, and battery range can be an obstacle on long bus routes. Most electric buses currently in service are said to have ranges of just 100 to 120 miles on a single charge.

The lithium-ion batteries used by electric vehicles, including buses, are also known to catch fire, and when the vehicle is involved in an accident, the battery fire may cause safety problems because they burn hotter and longer than a normal bus fire.

However, the electric buses have lower maintenance costs and estimated savings for the districts of between $4,000 and $11,000 per bus per year over their diesel counterparts.

In early March this year, the Biden administration’s environmental protection agency announced $17 million in electric school bus rebates through the 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) and Diesel Emissions Reduction ACT (DERA) 2021. A total of $7 million in ARP funds was directed to school districts in underserved communities to replace diesel buses with zero-emission electric models. An additional $10 million in DERA rebates was earmarked for the replacement of 444 school buses statewide.

The EPA is new Clean School Bus Discount Program under the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which provides an unprecedented $5 billion over five years, recently completed its filing period.