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Eads School District Receives $630,000 for Electric Buses and Charging Stations

By Betsy Barnett

July 4, 2024

The Eads School District was recently informed they will be the recipient of up to $630,000 in grants and rebates through the Clean Energy Air Act that will allow the school district to purchase two new electric buses and install two charging stations near the school district’s bus barn.

It is always an issue for rural school districts with small budgets—purchasing and maintaining the fleet of buses needed to successfully meet the daily demand to run routes before and after school, as well as for transportation for the multiple extra-curricular activities during a given school year.

Eads was in dire need of purchasing two new buses but had not pulled the trigger yet because of the exorbitant prices of buses that have doubled in the past 3 years. In addition, regulations at the state and federal levels have all but taken away the handy transportation vans the school districts were able to use to move small groups of students around. Now, vans are not allowed, and districts are looking to get rid of them rather than maintain them.

The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has also cracked down on the age of the buses which is making it very hard for all districts, let alone rural districts, to find ways to maintain the type of transportation acceptable via the many regulatory changes.

Lacie Vancampen, Eads School District bookkeeper and the school official who filled out the application for the EPA Clean Energy grant and rebates program said, “It is getting very hard to meet the requirements set out by CDE or the federal government when it comes to transportation. It appears they will eventually force us into utilizing the new electric vehicles—which are substantially more expensive than diesel or gas buses.”

There were a number of schools, many rural, that were in line to receive the funding for electric buses and charging stations. So many districts applied that the state of Colorado set up a drawing system where Eads’ name was, by pure luck, drawn. McClave and Lamar, to name just a few rural districts, are on the waiting list.

According to Vancampen the plan will be to purchase a bigger electric bus and a second smaller electric bus. Money will also be spent on the infrastructure needed to operate electric vehicles with the main installation being the charging stations at the bus barn. They expect a 72-passenger electric bus to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $345,000, and a smaller bus with less seating capacity will cost an estimated $245,000. The school has not yet received a bid on the installation of the charging stations from Southeast Colorado Power Association.

Of course, the district is well aware of the concerns parents will have when it comes to having their children transported in electric buses. The three main concerns that have been inhibitory in establishing the EV market is the distances the vehicle can go, the lack of infrastructure in other towns where the kids will be transported, and the functionality during extreme cold weather.

Eads is quite cognizant of these concerns and has a plan to implement the electric buses for shorter trips, sports practices, and routes. They won’t be used when the weather is too extreme. And they will have to develop a whole cadre of information for where charging stations are accessible nearby or how far their buses can go on a charge.

The main reason they are open to purchasing the electric buses is they are free—first and foremost—and if they can use them in short trips and routes, they may be able to save the wear, and especially the mileage—given the new CDE guidelines—for their gas powered buses. In fact, they believe they should be able to keep their current fleet in good working condition, meeting requirements, and extending their use for another five years.

Extending their reliable bus fleet to another 5 years is an attractive argument in accepting this outrageous amount of government money.

In order to compare the costs associated with electric buses, the district figures they can buy a 14-passenger gas-powered bus, brand new, for $106,500, compared to the $245,000 a comparable electric bus would cost. In addition, the district will have to deal with the repair and maintenance of the electric buses. According to Vancampen, “The repairs and maintenance on the electric buses is a concern. Part of the rebate funding the school will receive is for training on how to work on the electric buses. But, more than likely, if the electric bus has a maintenance issue it will have to be repaired by someone other than the district’s transportation director.”

The school district is aware of the issues that exists with accepting electric buses into the bus fleet. However, it is a way to focus on maintaining the longevity of the buses they have right now.

The district hasn’t ordered the buses yet. They are currently waiting on bids from SECPA for the charging stations and from dealers who sell electric buses. The funds have not been received by the school district, but rather they will be paid to the dealer and to the power company upon the school district’s final purchases. The money is coming out of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Rebate Program.

Once the buses are purchased, Vancampen estimates it will take as much as a year before they will actually receive the electric buses and get them operational.

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