The Eden Prairie School District has filed an application to receive more than $2.5 million in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grants to help purchase 10 electric school buses and charging systems.
The EPA allows qualifying districts to replace up to 25 buses. But eligible buses need to be 2010 or older models, which reduces the amount of grant funds available.
“EP currently operates just 10 buses in our fleet in that range,” Jason Mutzenberger, district executive director of business services, said in an email to EPLN. “We applied (in June) to replace all 10 with these funds.”
Even though the district likely won’t qualify for full replacement costs, it does qualify for significant funding, Mutzenberger said.
“There is reduced funding available for non-prioritized school districts, amounting to $250,000 per bus plus $13,000 in additional funds per electric bus for charging infrastructure,” he said.
In order to qualify for full priority grant amounts, which would pay for up to 25 new school buses, districts must meet a student poverty level standard of 20% or more in the community they serve.
U.S. Census Bureau data puts Eden Prairie’s student poverty level at 19.1%, Mutzenberger said.
The EPA wants districts to commit to using the new buses for five years, a year longer than most districts lease their buses. “EP (owns) its buses,” Mutzenberger said, “so the 5-year retention requirement from the EPA is not an issue.
“We currently keep our buses for 15 years and would expect to run the electric buses for a similar timeframe,” he said.
Nationwide EPA program
The EPA’s Clean School Bus program began this year with a $500 million budget to cover the purchase of electric buses and charging infrastructure. It is intended to replace diesel-fueled buses, which comprises all of Eden Prairie’s 104-vehicle school bus fleet.
Electric buses are seen as a clean alternative to diesel buses. “EV (electric vehicle) buses have zero tailpipe emissions and therefore would improve the air quality in our community and better the health of our kids,” Mutzenberger said.
Electric buses currently cost about $350,000 each, according to the district’s bus vendor. That would leave a $100,000 balance per bus. (Diesel buses cost $110,000.)
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) offers an opportunity for matching funds of up to $125,000 per bus plus $7,000 for each charging station, Mutzenberger said. “We need to first be awarded funds through the EPA in order to apply for these matching funds,” he said.
“If the school district were to be awarded funds to fully implement 10 EV buses, we would free up other district funds that would directly benefit students and classrooms,” he said.
In the meantime, Mutzenberger said, the district will continue to budget for bus replacements at $110,000 each in case grant funds are not awarded.
In addition to charging stations, the EV buses would require infrastructure upgrades to the district’s transportation garage. That cost would vary depending on whether the district purchases a slow- or quick-charge system, Mutzenberger said. “According to our bus vendor, prices vary from $9,000-$50,000 per bus depending on the charger we purchase,” he said.
Some of those costs would be offset by less expensive maintenance costs, Mutzenberger said. “Maintenance costs drop significantly, specifically as there are far fewer moving parts in an EV bus motor,” he said. “The rest of the bus is the same; body work/repairs, tires, brakes, filters, etc. and related costs would still continue.”
EV buses would also require some additional mechanic and driver training to properly maintain the buses and efficiently drive them, Mutzenberger said. “We would implement a training program if/when we implement EV buses. If we are awarded these funds, we would expect having them available in 2024.”
The EPA will notify applicants in October if they receive grants, Mutzenberger said.