HomeGreen BusWebinar Discusses Ways to Fund Electric School Buses

Webinar Discusses Ways to Fund Electric School Buses

“Value Stacking” was the phrase of the day during a webinar that explained how districts can build and fund their electrified bus fleets through widely available funding and incentives.

Jamie Garrett, manager of strategy and growth for webinar sponsor ENGIE North America, explained on Thursday that school districts are moving toward fleet electrification for many reasons, such as federal and state mandates, aging fleets, zero-emissions goals, and to target a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

“Take the first step and do the analysis.”

– Jamie Garrett, Manager of Strategy and Growth, ENGIE North America

She said that stacking funding options helps lower acquisition costs while technology stacking helps lower operational costs.

To go about this project efficiently, she advised capturing incentives from multiple federal, state, local and community sources. Projects should also be developed comprehensively with all parts of buses, chargers and infrastructure considered. Lastly, working closely with the correct partners is crucial.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes $360 billion in climate investment, tax credits and loans, Garrett explained. It supports electric bus purchases, infrastructure and training. There are specific bonuses based on a district’s location in energy communities, retired coal facility communities, low-income areas and non-urban areas.

“When you start looking at federal plus state programs, you could bring your capital expenditure to near zero,” she stated. “Work closely with your partners and understand your eligibility.”

There are ongoing costs in addition to the upfront cost of an EV. Aside from the question of buying an electric bus, “we want to think about where that energy is going to come from,” said Tad Glauthier, vice president of eMobility at Stem, which specializes in AI-driven clean energy optimization. He said that the EV battery is a flexible asset that can be programmed to manage energy for greener operations.

“Your electricity bill will become your new fuel bill,” he noted. “You want to make sure you allocate your budget appropriately.”

He explained that there are multiple benefits to co-deploying Distributed Energy Resources, or DERs, like electricity in combination with solar or wind. Districts can charge during grid outages, charge from the sun during expensive peak times, achieve more savings, maximize power and avoid grid limitations. Stem is a helpful partner for operations that want to use multiple power options like this, he added.

“It’s a great time to be doing these EV projects.”

– Tad Glauthier, Vice President of eMobility, Stem

Glauthier recapped the markets in various U.S. states and the different incentives they offer for bus operations looking to go greener.

“We want to see every state electrifying and using clean energy resources to do that,” he underscored.

He stressed the need for future planning in building an electric school bus operation. Districts could achieve a 60 percent energy bill reduction thanks to optimization, smart charging and on-site solar generation.

“It’s a great time to be doing these EV projects,” he said.

Garrett added that, “It’s hard to overstate how much funding is available now.” She advised that districts work with an expert to help them understand what they qualify for based on where they are located and various characteristics they have.

Glauthier stressed thinking ahead to the charging needs when the project is completed and when it’s running, years down the line. All partners at the table must understand these requirements.

Garrett provided examples of successful electrification projects, one of which is taking place at Grossmont Union High School District. Located near San Diego, the district is an early pioneer in electrifying, using a 20-year roadmap to transition its fleet of 67 diesel buses to electric. The district is leveraging solar as well as $4 million in grants and a 30 percent increase in Low Carbon Fuel Standard Credits.

El Monte Union High School District secured a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant and converted half of its fleet to electric, which it now uses with a mix of Level 2 and DC fast chargers, while leveraging smart control software to automate charging. Phase 2 includes solar energy in those plans.

Good communication and trust with your energy provider is crucial, Garrett said.

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Related: A Balanced Approached Needed to Achieve Cleaner Emissions
Related: Electric School Bus & Infrastructure Takeaways

ENGIE started with school bus operations in California; both it and Stem have worked with many operations in locations around the world, so they are ready to help, Glauthier said.

Garrett added that school districts and bus operations could send over a snapshot of their operations for a rough estimate of costs and effort required to go electric. For districts who think they may not qualify for as much federal or state funding, she advised speaking with the local energy provider to see what other costs savings are available.

“Take the first step and do the analysis,” she encouraged.

Distributed Energy Resources like solar can be leveraged and tax credits are available to districts now according to the Inflation Reduction Act, she shared. Glauthier said that vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is an additional option but not a top recommended one currently due to how new it is.

STN Publisher Tony Corpin noted that school districts are having to make a departure from their traditional way of buying school buses because of the electric ecosystem required, which is where knowledgeable partners like ENGIE and Stem come in to help.

Garrett reiterated the two companies’ commitment and excitement to work with districts who are thinking of wading into the world of electrification.

“We need to keep accelerating,” Glauthier said.

Watch the webinar on-demand. 

ENGIE North America will be at the STN EXPO Reno trade show on July 17 and 18, 2023.

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