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HomeGreen BusWebinar Explains the Specifics of Zero-Emission Vehicle Grant Funding in California

Webinar Explains the Specifics of Zero-Emission Vehicle Grant Funding in California

With certain states implementing clean fuel bus mandates and the ever-increasing trend toward acquiring electric or other alternative fuel buses, the race is on to apply for federal and state funding.

A May 23 webinar hosted by School Transportation News broke down clean bus funding options, specifically in California. The webinar was sponsored by A-Z Bus Sales. Peter Tuckerman, the dealer’s director of new school bus sales, opened the presentation by saying the company embraces clean fuel technology. This is not only because it’s an inevitable future for student transportation but because it’s the best move for students and communities. He continued that this is especially true in California, where the state mandates that 100 percent of new school bus purchases must be zero emissions by 2035.

“That goal, that demand is on the horizon. It’s something that, whether people like it or not, we have to understand,” said Tuckerman. “But they also recognize that school districts don’t have huge coffers or money left over for big jumps in technology like this. So, the grant program really helps move people towards that goal.

Tuckerman continued that the purpose of grant funding is to prepare people to meet the zero-emission requirements and not be blindsided by state deadlines.

There is $500 million in state funding for clean energy school buses in California alone, but that amount would only purchase about 1,100 buses when there are over 24,000 in the state. World Resource Institute Electric School Bus Initiative data indicates there are nearly 1,200 electric school buses in operation in California at this report with another 1,200 ESBs ordered and over 700 awarded. Tuckerman said he encourages districts to take advantage of those funds and not to put it off because they are there to help with the transition.

Panelists on the webinar went on to explain different aspects of funding, including federal versus state funding, stacking options, limitations and requirements. While there are multiple grant options in California, the main three discussed were the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Heavy-Duty Grant Program, the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), and the new Zero-Emission School Bus and Infrastructure (ZESBI) funding opportunity.

Esther Hurtado, grants manager at A-Z Bus Sales, noted specifics of the EPA Clean-Heavy Duty Grant Program. She shared the program is focused on Class 6 and 7 school buses, and it is a replacement program, not an expansion program. This means that districts can get money back for trading in diesel buses. There is also a 10-bus minimum and 50-bus maximum purchase requirement. She also said that the grant funds can be used for infrastructure. Hurtado stated that the EPA grants can be stacked with HVIP and other funding from local sources, which can be helpful when handling costs of new electric buses.

“This is a competitive grant. It is extensive, intense and does require a grant writer,” she added.

With the approaching application deadline of July 25, she said it’s important to begin reviewing what is needed to apply. She advised taking advantage of lead time and to reaching out to the A-Z grants team. which offers grant-writing services in cooperation with Blue Bird and Cummins Inc.

Next, Hurtado spoke about ZESBI funding. She explained that it began as Senate Bill 114, and progressed into the Green Bus Project before settling with its current name. The funding combines $375 million from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and $125 million from the California Energy Commission. It is a joint application, meaning funding covers both buses and infrastructure.

ZESBI is also a replacement program, but in contrast to the EPA’s point system for evaluating applications, it is an award prioritizing system. There isn’t a minimum of buses as is the case with EPA funding. She explained that funds will be distributed using three tiers: the first for small, rural or Local Education Agency serving a high number of unduplicated pupils, or UPC; the second for lower income or disadvantaged communities; and the third for all other statewide applicants.

Hurtado encouraged districts to apply even if they are not in a higher tier, because funds are time-stamped, which means that if funding is still available after completing the first tier, it will be re-distributed to the lower tiers. She also clarified that EPA and HVIP funds cannot be stacked with ZESBI funding.

School buses that are traded in for ZESBI funding must have a current California Highway Patrol certification and Department of Motor Vehicles registration, but the trade-in options are not limited to diesel. Districts can also trade in propane, gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG) models.

Ashley Melchor, the grants coordinator for A-Z Bus Sales, spoke about the electric infrastructure that can be acquired through ZESBI funding, which includes one charger per bus and the cost of procurement and installation. She continued that there are maximum incentives based on the type of charger that the district chooses.

ZESBI applicants will have to meet a list of requirements, including proof of compliance with the CARB Clean Truck Check, which normally school buses are exempt from but that is needed when applying for grants. Other requirements included developing a charging and routing plan, selecting what type of chargers are needed, and an initial infrastructure plan.

Melchor continued that districts must apply for ZESBI funding directly, but that the A-Z grants can help to make sure all the checklists are met and that documents are organized before applications are submitted.

Joe Ordonez, the EV infrastructure division manager for A-Z Connect (A-Z Bus Sales’ electric vehicle management software), spoke about infrastructure project considerations, which includes charger selection, site requirements, and software that will allow for optimized charging schedules. He also noted that an off-grid option should be considered in the event of power outages.

Ordonez continued that site walk-throughs should be conducted with local utilities to determine exactly where and when chargers can be installed, as utility deployment can take up to 18 months. He also said that A-Z’s smart charging software can help with reporting requirements needed for funding programs, utilizing Low Carbon Fuel Standard credits where districts are reimbursed for the charging energy used, and to determine the most cost-effective time and rate for chargers.

Michelle Hanson, program manager of bus and innovative mobility at CALSTART, discussed the details of HVIP funding opportunity. She explained that it does allow for fleet expansion, as it doesn’t require scrappage of buses. She continued that to utilize the funding, districts need to apply through and work with a HVIP approved dealer. A list of dealers can be found at californiahvip.org.)

Tuckerman answered an audience question about the viability of electric buses replacing traditional diesel buses, saying that it’s important to remember that electric bus technology is improving rapidly in terms of range and ease of driving and that it’s important not to discount the need for a detailed charging infrastructure plan.

“My encouragement would be you can make these [electric buses] very successful in your fleet,” said Tuckerman. “By choosing the right routes and working to make sure you have the right infrastructure, they will absolutely work, theu absolutely take the places of existing school buses, for the right routes. As time goes by, we know they’re going to be successful in all the different areas.”

STN Publisher Tony Corpin concluded the webinar by commenting how beneficial it can be to work with a close partner like A-Z Bus Sales to “leverage some of this government money, to really help amplify and expand the technology of your fleet.”

Watch the webinar on demand.


Related: Rural Districts Discuss the Move Toward Electric School Buses
Related: EPA Announces Nearly $900M Awarded in Latest Clean School Bus Rebate
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