SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Grossmont Union High School District was among the various local organizations represented at the inagural San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) first EV Fleet Day.
Lindsey Danner, the energy manager for Grossmont Union High School District, told her electric school bus story during a panel discussion that included Maggie Weber of the Port of San Diego, Chad Reese of the San Diego International Airport, and Richard Abadala of SP Plus Corporation.
Danner said Grossmont, located 26 miles away from the event held April 7 at Broadway Pier in San Diego, had a fleet of 67 diesel school buses that logged 1 million miles annually to service the community. In doing so, the district used more than 182,000 gallons of diesel per year at a cost of $492,727. But as the district was renovating its transportation facility last June, it also faced the challenge of replacing nearly one-third of the fleet.
“Everything was changing,” Danner told School Transportation News after her panel discussion when asked why Grossmont chose to switch to electric. “It was kind of like, wait a second, if we’re going to be digging all of this up and tearing everything down, this is the time to put in that infrastructure for future electric buses.”
Using $4 million in grant funding and another $500,000 from the SDG&E Power Your Drive fleet program, the district purchased 17 electric buses, which are expected to arrive in June. Phase two will kick off next school year, when Grossmont receives another 10 electric buses, with help from the state’s HVIP program. The entire process from putting out the first RFP will take about a year, Danner added.
Grossmont also installed charging infrastructure, 60kw DC chargers, for all 27 buses. Danner noted an additional charger was purchased just in case one goes down.
Grossmont is receiving six electric buses from IC Bus and 11 from Thomas Built Buses for Phase 1. Phase 2 will include another nine from Thomas and potentially one GreenPower B.E.A.S.T., which the district applied for a grant to purchase.
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While she noted that the end goal would be to transition all 67 school buses to electric, she doesn’t envision that happening until around 2030. “One challenge for the school district is that with electric school buses the batteries are underneath,” she said, explaining that the location is where students normally store their sporting equipment or band instruments. But with the electric school buses, there is no storage capacity due to the battery.
“Right now, there’s one bus by GreenPower … that has any under storage capacity,” she continued. “That’s a huge challenge for us and a reason why can’t replace all of our fleet. But in the one year that we’ve started this program, electric buses have changed so much that my guess is in the next year or two all the buses will have that underneath storage capacity.”
In the meantime, she said, students on athletic teams will have to put their gear in the seat next to them, which decreases overall school bus capacity.
Also, in another five years, Grossmont will also be looking at the feasibility of vehicle to grid capabilities for the buses, she said. Lynn Ames, the vice president of partnerships at Nuvve, Corp., with headquarters in San Diego, added in the following panel discussion that V2G is no longer in its infancy stage, and there are districts reaping financial benefits of it today.