LONG BEACH, Calif. — Zero and near-zero emission vehicles are becoming a priority, especially as unprecedented funding for the school bus industry awaits final congressional approval. Three panelists at the ACT EXPO discussed the process of purchasing electric vehicles and gave advice to those ready to go green.
The Wednesday session was moderated by Josh Cohen, the director of policy at Greenlots, an EV charging company partnered with Shell Oil. He introduced panelists Jill Dvareckas, senior director of development at Florida Power and Light Company (FPL); Ron Halley, vice president of fleet and facilities, EV development and implementation at school bus contractor Student Transportation of America; and Gilbert Rosas, the energy education specialist at Stockton Unified School District in California.
Dvareckas commenced the conversation by discussing her previous role at NextEra Energy, which recently partnered with First Student to help with the electrification of thousands of school buses. FPL is working on a pilot program to provide over 1,000 chargers across 100 locations in the state. In terms of school buses, the company is piloting its first five vehicles with vehicle to grid (V2G) activity buses in the City of West Palms. The city owns and operates the buses, while FPL is providing the charging. It has also partnered with five other school districts to introduce 175 electric school buses in by 2030.
Meanwhile, Halley, helped initiate STA’s 2012 purchase of the company’s first 400 propane vehicles, making it the largest all propane bus fleet in the U.S. STA now operates over 700 vehicles propane and CNG, and it is embarking on an electric path.
Rosas, on the other hand, purchased buses, installed charging infrastructure, and received the electric buses in under 11 months, all taking place during the pandemic shut down. The district, which serves almost 80 percent of students who are socially economically disadvantaged, was awarded $5 million from the California Clean Air for our Community Grant through the California Resource Board. In May, it won the grant and the process took off from there.
Stockton is expecting another 10 buses, which will bring the electric total to about a third of the overall fleet. Rosas added that the district created a blueprint to achieve all the needed steps. He added the district is also focused on empowering its students to learn about clean energy so that they can inspire the younger generation.
Disadvantaged Community Formula for Change
Grant Investment +
Energy Conservation +
Reduced Emissions +
Indoor Air Quality
= Environmental Justice
Source: GIlbert Rosas, Stockton Unified School District
Don’t Forget Infrastructure
When looking at infrastructure considerations, Dvareckas stressed the importance of communicating with the local utility company early and often. Rosas added that Stockton got its infrastructure plans well in advantage, and he advised looking at district needs now and in the future.
Where are you getting your power? Do you have the right staff? Do you have people who can do the data collection? Do the charging systems and buses speak well with each other? These are only some of the questions he posed to the audience.
Meanwhile, Halley advised understanding the regulations in your area and state, noting that getting in contact with the utility company sooner rather than later helps even out those rough patches.
He suggested making a checklist and checking things off as they are completed. “One percent of our buses are taking up 90 percent of my time,” he shared, which is true at the beginning of the process. Halley added that electric vehicles are disruptive technology and should not be taken lightly.
Dvareckas said everyone in the room should be an advocate for transportation electrification. She added that while many districts are hesitant at first to go electric, finding the right partner makes the process more comfortable.
When looking at electric vehicle infrastructure and vehicle to grid capabilities (V2G) she noted that this is still a new technology, and directors should have patience as to not put the grid at risk.
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Halley added that some chargers do cause degradation of the battery. He added that depending on the energy software, the bus could be plugged in during peak charging time but not actively drawing power. Halley said that there is a big interest in V2G technology, and it’s something that the industry will see more of down the road.
Rosas agreed that V2G is in its infancy but added that somebody must blaze the trail so that others in the industry can learn from it and figure out the best practices. He said that right now, it’s okay to make mistakes, as everyone is still learning.
“The right time for funding is now. Value it. Go after it. And be unified in getting it,” Rosas advised.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated as a previous version incorrectly stated the name of the session moderator.