The electric school bus buzz continues, this time in Maryland with the implementation of an electric school bus pilot project that will set up a statewide requirement that school district only purchase the vehicles.
Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland is already well known for replacing 326 diesel school buses with electric over the next four years with partner Highland Electric Fleets. However, the state is taking more aggressive strides to reduce emissions.
A new Maryland Bill, SB528, known as the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022, was introduced in January and was enacted in March. The new law aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by altering the statewide greenhouse gas emissions goal.
This includes establishing a net-zero gas emissions goal by 2045, and explicitly requires the state to reduce statewide GHG emissions by 60 percent from 2006 levels by 2031. The bill also develops energy efficiency and emissions reduction requirements for certain buildings and requires electric companies to increase their annual incremental gross energy savings.
Maryland Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, along with seven other bill sponsors, introduced legislation in 2020 that would have required each school bus purchased by a county board of education beginning on Oct. 1, 2023, to be a zero-emission vehicle. However, the bill died in committee that year.
Additionally, the law provides an entire section on zero-emission vehicles, including school buses.
The law states that beginning in fiscal year 2025, a county board of education is prohibited from entering into a new contract to purchase any school bus that is not a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEVs) or to use any school bus that is not zero emissions, unless it has an in-service date of July 1, 2024, or before.
“However, the prohibition does not apply if [the Maryland Department of the Environment] determines that no available ZEVs meet the performance requirements for the county board’s use or the county board is unable to obtain federal, state or private funding that is sufficient to cover the ‘incremental costs’ associated with contracting for the purchase or use of school buses that are ZEVs,” SB528 adds.
It continues that county school boards may also enter into an agreement with an electric utility to obtain funds in exchange for allowing the utility to use the batteries through vehicle-to-grid technology. The Maryland Department of Environment must also work with county school boards and private school bus contractors to develop infrastructure to support electric school buses.
SB528 also establishes the Electric School Bus Pilot Program, which is implemented and administered by the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC).
“Generally, under the electric school bus pilot program, a utility installs interconnection equipment and provides rebates to local school systems to cover incremental costs of an electric bus fleet, and the school system allows the utility to access the stored electricity without additional compensation at times when the school system determines that the buses are not needed to transport students,” the law states, adding that a utility may apply to PSC to implement an electric school bus pilot program if the program is structured to begin by Oct. 1, 2024.
In order for the pilot program to be approved, it must provide for the deployment of at least 25 electric school buses, provide for electric school bus rebates to participating school systems, allow the utility to use the storage batteries of the electric school buses to access the stored electricity through vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. But generally, school districts would not be allowed to receive additional compensation from V2G.
The program also would select school systems that apply to participate based on “appropriate factors” determined by the utility with the approval of PSC, including the locational benefits that the storage batteries of school buses are expected to bring to the utility.
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Additionally, each electric school bus must be equipped with lap/shoulder seatbelts in accordance with recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and the school district must be provided with adequate training and expertise to be able to operate electric school buses and related equipment.
The pilot program must last at least three years and as long as five years. To participate, school districts must develop criteria that benefit students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals and prior to the delivery of electric school buses, develop a plan for training and retaining any school system employee affected by the pilot program.
The state General Assembly encourages electric school bus pilot program applicants to seek any federal funds that may be available, including funds available under the federal Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. SB528 adds that where feasible, the General Assembly also encourages applicants to produce or procure electricity generated by renewable resources to power electric school bus charging infrastructure.