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Electric Fun in Sun as South Florida Embraces Zero-Emission School Buses

The Greater Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area will soon boast the most electric school buses in Florida.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the largest district by student enrollment in Florida, saw the shift to electric school buses as an opportunity to accelerate efforts and reduce its carbon footprint. “We applied for the grant immediately once it was publicized and the application was available to all school districts,” said Stefford Cone, the assistant superintendent for school operations.

The Diesel Emissions Mitigation Program (DEMP) utilizes funds from the Volkswagen Settlement and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act program. The DEMP Electric School Bus Project initiative offered an opportunity to the district to explore the electrification of its fleet.

Once Miami-Dade was notified of the opportunity, it collaborated with the grants administration office at the Florida Department of Education to complete the application. “The thought process was that it would be an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint as well as collaborate with the local energy provider, Florida Power & Light,” said Cone.

The initial plan is to work with the utility company to develop the charging stations required for the initial purchase of 10 electric school buses. Additional purchases depend on the availability of capital funding.

“At this time, we are in communication with the [Florida] Department of Environmental Protection providing the necessary district documents to proceed with the next phase of the grant funding. The district has been notified of the grant award for the initial 10-unit purchase,” said Cone.

Currently, Miami-Dade operates 1,037 school buses. Nearby, Broward County Public Schools operates over 250 more. The district will initially purchase 60 electric buses using Florida Department of Environmental Protection grant funds. The school district is also partnering with Florida Power & Light, which will provide the charging infrastructure for the electric buses at each Broward Schools transportation terminal, explained district spokesperson Cathleen Brennan.

Unlike traditional diesel buses, each 72-passenger electric bus produce no emissions at the tailpipe and are quiet on the road. This reduces noise pollution and makes it more comfortable for passengers to have conversations. Broward Schools is in the process of completing its order for the 60 new buses and hopes to have them delivered and in service within the next school year. Once the buses are in service, Broward Schools will be operating the largest fleet of electric buses in Florida, Brennan said.

“This exciting opportunity is an example of our district’s commitment to protect the communities we drive-through and the environment as we move toward healthier and more environmentally friendly transportation options,” said Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. “We appreciate the state’s support and collaboration with this grant. Reducing our carbon footprint is a responsibility we all share. We’re excited to be taking this first step with 60 electric buses and look forward to expanding our fleet of electric buses moving forward.”

Broward’s Student Transportation and Fleet Services Department includes approximately 1,300 buses, 950 of which are used on daily routes. The remaining buses are used for school events and activities. The new electric buses will be replacements for older diesel school buses built in or before 2009, Brennan said.

The grant money is coming from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Diesel Emissions Mitigation Program via the Volkswagen settlement, Alexandra Kuchta, a spokesperson for the agency, explained.

Last November, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection published a Notice of Funding Availability for the allocation of $57 million to purchase Type C or Type D electric school buses for school districts within air quality priority areas, as specified in Florida’s Volkswagen Beneficiary Mitigation Plan. These buses are intended to replace Type C or Type D diesel school buses. The following seven school districts applied for the funding opportunity and were awarded grants: Broward, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Sarasota school districts, according to Kuchta.

Funding is available for approximately 230 school buses. The agency is in the process of executing the grant agreements, and an exact number of buses will be able to be identified once that is completed, Kuchta added.

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