Reducing Emissions and Improving Student Health Through Electrification

January 26, 2023

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Approximately 23 million students ride yellow buses on any given school day, amounting to more than 50% of students nationwide. Unfortunately, diesel emissions usually follow along for the ride as, in most cases, school districts have yet to electrify their fleets.

The time and cost required to develop a feasible zero-emission transition is beyond the reach of many districts. School transportation managers often wear multiple hats and lack the capacity for researching new technology, necessary infrastructure, and grant funding opportunities.

Utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) can help. PG&E offers services that can reduce student transportation costs; services such as site planning and development. PG&E brings the knowledge and experience needed to create a healthier, carbon-free future for schools and the precious cargo they transport daily.

Emissions’ Effect on School Children

Diesel exhaust affects everyone negatively, but for children waiting for buses, it can have a particularly detrimental effect on their health and education. Diesel exhaust contains harmful air contaminants such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, both of which are especially harmful to children since they have a faster breathing rate than adults. The exposure to these emissions while waiting for the bus, or even riding it, can lead to the development of respiratory diseases such as asthma. According to the American Lung Association, California cities such as Bakersfield, Fresno, Madera, and Visalia have the highest annual pollution levels in the country.

Diesel emissions can also lower test scores according to some studies. A 2019 report developed by Georgia State University found that reducing school bus emissions with merely diesel retrofits had a positive effect on students’ english and math test scores. That positive effect could be multiplied significantly with the introduction of zero-emission battery-electric school buses.

Funding for Electrification

With cost being one of the top roadblocks for schools to purchase battery-electric school buses and their necessary charging infrastructure, funding at both the state and federal level is available. PG&E, through its EV Fleet Program, works with school districts to accelerate their goals to offer emission-free transportation for their students.

California school districts can apply for grants through the Hybrid & Zero-Emission Truck & Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), which includes $38 million for all fleets, as well as an additional $122 million as part of the Public School Bus Set-Aside for Small and Medium Air Districts. Incentives for purchasing battery-electric school buses range from $44,000 to $198,000 per bus. Districts can also apply for funding through the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), which is administering $130 million in Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust funding for zero-emission transit, school, and shuttle buses.

There are also several fact sheets available on the PG&E website, as well as an EV fleet calculator and case studies on Madera Unified School District’s and Pittsburgh Unified School District’s (PUSD) electrification programs. Interested school districts can virtually build an EV fleet and see how costs can be offset by available funding and assistance from PG&E. They can also learn from PUSD’s school district energy supervisor on how his fleet leveraged PG&E’s expertise and resources to successfully deploy EVs into regular operation.

Districts can take advantage of PG&E’s Business EV rate program, which offers rate plans for business customers with on-site EV charging. These rates were designed for fleets with separately metered EV charging at their depots and can help meet their EV goals, while keeping fuel costs lower than gasoline or diesel alternatives. According to estimates, fleets have seen savings of up to 53% on charging costscompared to other commercial rate plans. Compared to gas and diesel, the Business EV rate plan has an estimated savings up to 50% on fuel costs. In most cases, the estimated price of an eGallon ranges from $1.80 to $2.60.

Starting the Journey

Like any new challenge, you may have more questions than answers about purchasing battery-electric school buses and installing the required charging infrastructure. This is no easy task. Partnering with PG&E can lower costs, reduce emissions, and improve the lives of each and every student that rides your yellow bus to and from school.