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New York Pushes Forward with Electric School Bus Mandate Despite Opposition

Gov. Kathy Hochul announces latest funding available for electrifying school uses after Senate rejects an amendment to repeal state mandate

With less than three years remaining before all newly purchased school buses must be zero-emissions vehicles, and fighting off political attempts to reverse course, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced school districts and school bus operators can begin applying for up to $65,000 per electric bus to purchase and install chargers and related infrastructure.

The funds are part of the $500 million New York School Bus Incentive Program under the $4.2 billion Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act passed by voters in 2022. Last fall, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) made available the first $100 million for electric school buses.

Hochul said the next phase announced on Tuesday supports the state’s electric school bus mandate as well as a goal of an 85-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“Young people are at the center of the climate crisis, and enabling the transition to a zero-emission school bus fleet is not only a commitment to a greener future, but to the health and well-being of our students,” Hochul said in a statement. “As school districts make the switch to electric buses, my administration is providing the resources necessary to transition as easily and affordably as possible.”

To be eligible for the latest funding, school districts and bus operators must have purchased an electric school bus after Jan. 1, 2023, using their own money or through the New York School Bus Incentive Program, the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean School Bus Program. They can then apply on a first-come, first-served basis to receive at least $25,000 per bus to cover hardware, behind-the-meter electrical upgrades, installation costs, and battery storage.

NYSERDA said the number of electric school buses that school districts and bus operators have purchased or are purchasing will determine their level of funding.

School districts designated as priority districts, defined by the New York State Education Department as having high needs, or that serve disadvantaged communities, defined by the New York State Climate Justice Working Group, can receive an additional $10,000 per bus.

An additional $30,000 per bus can be obtained by completing a fleet electrification plan that comprehensively evaluates existing fleet operations and analyzes current site electrical capabilities, NYSERDA added. The Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act appropriates $5 million to the Flexible Technical Assistance Program, which provides consultants to perform the fleet electrification plans.

Related: Additional $23M Available to Further New York Electric Vehicle Projects
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Related: V2G Findings Announced From New York State Electric School Bus Project

Hochul’s announcement came one day after an unsuccessful bid by state Sen. George Borrello to replace the requirement for new school bus purchases to be electric — starting in 2027 with full fleet turnover by 2035 — with a feasibility study. His proposed amendment to legislation seeking a task force on school bus safety was defeated by Senate Democrats.

“The reliability problem is a major drawback, but unfortunately just one among many when it comes to this still-new technology,” said Borrello, citing a news article last week on experiences of Bethlehem Central School District near Albany, where five of seven electric buses were reportedly out of commission for repairs. “These buses carry an exorbitant price tag, not only for the vehicles themselves, but for the needed infrastructure and transmission upgrades, and their traveling range is far less than conventional buses, even in ideal weather conditions.”

Borrello and six other Republicans initially introduced a bill last month that would eliminate the electric bus mandate and directs NYSERDA to conduct the feasibility study. It was referred to the Senate Education Committee.

Meanwhile, school districts can apply for waivers of up to two years past the 2035 deadline for full electric fleets by providing proof of hardships they have encountered with deploying the school buses.

At this report, the New York School Bus Incentive Program has received 20 applications for 97 buses for a total of $22 million. There are 45,000 school buses operated by school districts and bus contractors statewide. According to the World Resource Institute’s Electric School Bus Initiative, as of this report 483 electric school buses have been committed to New York with 56 ordered.

Non-partisan, non-profit think tank Empire Center last month said it could cost $8 billion for school districts to meet the electric mandate.

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