West Grand rolls out first high-altitude, electric school bus in Colorado
Gone are the days of the school bus’ diesel engine for the students on the Spring Creek route at West Grand School District.
The newly introduced electric school bus is almost entirely silent, only making a low hum under 20 mph for safety reasons, and has no tailpipe. This week West Grand became the second school district in the state to introduce an electric school bus — and the first to do so at high altitude.
“It is just not every day you see cutting edge, state of the art technology in rural Colorado and today it is great, big, right in front of us,” said Rob Taylor, manager of communications for Mountain Parks Electric. “We are very excited about it.”
The electric bus came at no cost to the district thanks to a grant from Colorado’s Regional Air Quality Counsel along with financial support from Mountain Parks Electric through unclaimed monies held by the electric co-op and its power provider, Tri-State G&T.
The 78-passenger vehicle has a 120-mile range and takes four hours to fully charge. The electric bus also costs less to operate per mile compared to a diesel bus because it has fewer moving parts and doesn’t require oil changes.
On Thursday, West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard recalled initial discussions with Chris Michalowski of Mountain Parks Electric in 2019.
“Our first thought was, ‘There’s no way an electric bus can be successful in the mountains,’” Peppard said. “We were concerned about the ability of the bus to have power, to have torque — to really do what our buses need to do. As it turns out, this bus actually has three times the torque of any diesel bus in our fleet.”
After testing out a similar electric bus, Peppard is also certain that the bus’ heating system will perform well during winter months.
Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State G&T, called school buses the “perfect electric vehicle” because of their capability to charge during off-peak times for the electric grid and their predictable energy needs.
Highley added that electric energy is truly a cleaner option for the environment, with nearly one-third of Tri-State’s power currently coming from renewable energy. By 2024, that is expected to go up to 50% and could reach 80% by the end of the decade.
“It’s powered by an electric grid that is just getting increasingly clean and renewable,” Taylor said.
During a test ride Thursday, the bus had a new car smell and the fresh floor squeaked under shoes for the first time. For those involved in getting the bus rolling, riding along felt like moving forward in more than one way.
“This bus helps to represent something that we’ve all been looking for, and that’s a new start,” Peppard said. “We’re really excited to have this bus to be a part of the West Grand fleet.”
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Grand Lake is still standing one year after the East Troublesome Fire, and the town celebrated the people who helped make that happen on Saturday.