School districts, Mountain Parks Electric rev up efforts for electric buses
Both East Grand and West Grand school districts are pursuing grants for what could be some of the first electric school buses in the state at no cost to either district.
If the districts receive the grant, Mountain Parks Electric would cover the remaining cost of the buses using unclaimed monies held by the electric co-op, according to Chris Michalowski, power use advisor.
This means the electric buses would be free to the districts. Both East Grand and West Grand have committed to the project.
“What (Mountain Parks is) bringing forward is such a great opportunity for us in a lot of ways,” said Darrin Peppard, West Grand School District superintendent. “We become part of this pilot at a very low level of risk to the district.”
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The deadline to apply for the electric bus grant is Nov. 8 so nothing is official yet, but Michalowski and the districts are optimistic they will receive the grants.
“We’re still a ways a way,” said Frank Reeves, East Grand School District superintendent. “We’re currently filling out the grant application, which the board will vote to approve or not approve at the Nov. 5 meeting.”
Michalowski said he hopes to hear back about the grants by the end of this year.
Even though the buses would be free to the districts, both were hesitant because little data is available. Board members did not want to commit to transporting children in electric buses without more details.
While the bus proposal aligns with the districts’ goals, Reeves said the school board was still nervous to move forward.
“Like anything that’s so new, there’s a little fear,” Reeves said.
Reeves pointed out not much is known about how the buses would perform in a cold and snowy climate like Grand County. The buses would be tested in every type of climate and condition possible before students could ride, according to Reeves.
There was data available on transit buses that helped answer some questions. Next week the districts have an opportunity for an electric bus test-drive in Boulder, which Peppard planned to attend.
He said that while more information is needed about the electric buses, it would be hard to pass up such an opportunity.
“We want to be fiscally responsible to our stakeholders,” Peppard said. “Having the opportunity to purchase a bus at no cost to the district is something we need to look at.”
Michalowski said he hopes the project creates that data about electric school buses that is currently missing for these and other school districts. The two school districts will be using different manufacturers, which will allow a comparison between the two buses.
“Maybe we can plant that stake into the ground, where one day they can say they’ll never buy another diesel bus again,” Michalowski said.
The buses would be set on regular routes as part of a condition of the grant. They would not be used beyond these routes for things like travel outside the county.
Electric school buses are not terribly popular in the state or even the country, but interest has picked up in the last two years. In Colorado, only one school district in Boulder has placed orders for electric school buses, Reeves said, which means Grand could have some of the first.
Electric buses cost about $380,000 compared to $152,000 for a bus fueled by diesel. Because of the high initial costs of electric buses, combined with the tight funding facing most school districts, it’s not an investment that’s always possible.
At an East Grand School Board meeting in August, Mountain Parks Electric explained where their contribution comes from.
The co-op is a nonprofit, but it does run a small profit every year to show it’s financially viable. The co-op returns those profits to its members, but sometimes the co-op is left with unclaimed money from someone leaving the co-op without providing contact information.
The co-op holds on to this money for three years, after which it goes into the unclaimed capital credits fund. The unclaimed capital is what Mountain Parks Electric is using for the partnership.
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