Legislation currently in the House energy and commerce committee could provide an additional boost to converting the national fleet of school buses to clean energy.
Democrat-led House Bill 1848 that was introduced on March 11 would include a pledge of $650 million over fiscal years 2022 through 2026 to essentially purchase electric school buses. The bill would dedicate $52 million a year to communities that serve low-income residents, indigenous people and those of color, or that are located in nonattainment air pollution areas. Priority would be given to school districts that serve the highest number of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
State agencies, tribal governments, school districts, bus contractors, and nonprofit school bus associations are eligible to receive the funds in the form of grants, low-cost revolving loans, or a combination of the two. The money would pay 100-percent of the vehicle replacement and charging infrastructure costs. But funding cannot exceed 110 percent of the difference in price compared to buying a new diesel school bus. Awardees could also supplement the funds with other grant awards, local bonds, or public-private partnerships with electric utilities.
Using an average cost of $400,000 to purchase the vehicle and the necessary charging infrastructure, HB 1848 could introduce around 325 electric buses a year or over 1,600 during the five-year period.
The program contains a “Buy America” provision that would include waivers to allow for at least 60 percent of components to be manufactured domestically over the program’s five years. If the grant program is extended, that threshold would increase to 70 percent.
HB 1848 would also pay for training and technical support on how student transportation staff operate and maintain electric school buses.
The bill would also create an education and outreach program in conjunction with national school bus associations, vehicle and component manufacturers, electric utilities, and other stakeholders to promote the availability of grant funds as well as share best practices, lessons learned and technical information on electric school bus adoption.
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Related: Navigating the Rise of Utility Interest in Electric School Buses
Editor’s note — An original version of the article incorrectly calculated the total sum of funding if the legislation is enacted into law.