The United States’ largest public transportation system is our fleet of around 500,000 school buses. Most of them are diesel-powered, but that will be changing over the next few years. Thanks to $5 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, eligible entities can apply to receive substantial money to cover the cost of new electric and alternative-fuel school buses, along with the charging infrastructure they require.
Run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean School Bus Program is open for applications now through January 31, 2024. In contrast to the lottery approach of the last $500 million round of funding, the current round of at least $500 million is an application-based system that prioritizes “high-need communities.” The EPA defines high-need communities as rural, Tribal, and low-income school districts.
School districts that the EPA identifies as prioritized will receive more funding per bus than non-prioritized districts, but non-prioritized districts will still see substantial funding.
Prioritized school districts can receive the following amounts. (The class designations refer to the vehicle’s GVWR or gross vehicle weight rating. A class 7 bus is a heavy-duty vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 lbs and up, for example.)
Non-prioritized school districts can receive the following amounts:
Up to $20,000 in additional funding is available for ADA-compliant wheelchair lifts. Additional funding is available for shipping costs to non-contiguous U.S. states and territories, as well.
You can get into the particulars for each category here, but as an overview, the following entities are eligible for the Clean School Bus Program:
Private schools are not eligible.
Buses eligible for replacement must:
However, if a school can’t meet some of those criteria, they may have a workaround:
“If a fleet has no eligible 2010 or older diesel school buses and is requesting zero-emission school bus replacements, the fleet can either:
Only new zero-emission electric buses, propane-powered buses, and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses qualify for purchase under the program. Biofuel-powered buses are not eligible, nor are buses that have been converted to battery-electric, propane, or CNG power after their retail sale. The conversion of existing buses to a battery-electric, propane, or CNG drivetrain is not eligible for funding. Only buses of model year 2022 and newer with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,001 lbs or more are eligible for the program.
The Clean School Bus Program also accounts for the need for the charging infrastructure that electric buses require. Funding is available, as noted above, for infrastructure from the electrical meter to the charging port of the bus. Program funds cannot be used for any work “in front of” the electrical meter or on the utility side.
Besides their clean-air benefits, battery-electric buses can also act as giant batteries that can supplement the grid when needed. They can be utilized to offset peak demand as well as fully charge overnight when demand is lowest, and electricity rates are cheapest. This concept is called “vehicle to grid” or V2G, and it makes sense when you consider that most school buses are used for only a few hours per day and may be sitting idle, done with their routes, during peak demand.
In fact, it’s already happening, as the linked article points out. It’s possible that schools’ new electric bus fleets could be a revenue stream as well as helping out the often-strained electric grid.