School buses travel about four billion miles each year, providing more than 25 million American children safe transportation to and from school every day. However, diesel exhaust from these buses has a negative impact on human health, especially because a child’s breathing rate is faster than an adult’s and their lungs are not yet fully developed.

School bus emissions can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory issues in children because of the high levels of nitrogen oxide and particulate matter that are released from these vehicles. This impact is especially harmful to underserved communities where the concentration of air pollution is the highest.

Replacing diesel school buses with electric school buses can make a significant contribution in the fight against climate change while reducing the negative health consequences for students and staff. Improving vehicle fuel efficiency can result in long-term energy and cost savings while improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout New Jersey. Doing so would be especially powerful since New Jersey’s electricity supply is already low-carbon based compared to many other states. As an added benefit, the more electrically-fueled miles driven in New Jersey, the less in-state petroleum consumption there is. The transportation sector, fueled almost entirely by fossil fuels, makes up about one-third of New Jersey’s overall energy use and approximately 40% of New Jersey’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Electric School Buses Coming to Belleville Public Schools (Essex County) Belleville Public Schools is one of just a handful of New Jersey school districts that have added, or plan to add, electric school buses to its fleet. Located next to Newark, Belleville is a vibrant community of about 38,000  with a school district that serves students from preschool through twelfth grade.

Matthew J. Paladino, business administrator for the Belleville Board of Education, explained, “Our students represent a population of multicultural, hard-working individuals, coming together each day to work as one unit, and continue in the traditions of integrity, service, citizenship and scholarship.” He added, “The Belleville Public School District and our surrounding community have entered a true renaissance in learning, putting theory into practice and raising the bar. That is why the opportunity to replace old diesel buses with electric school buses was a perfect fit.”

Belleville Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Tomko and Paladino, aware of the environmental benefits and potential long-term cost savings, searched for available funding to help make the switch to electric buses. The Belleville Board of Education applied and received a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection grant that was funded through the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust Program. This grant covered the costs of two new electric school buses that the school district purchased from Lion Electric valued at $372,602 per bus.

The two buses were purchased through the Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle Purchasing Collaborative, which leverages the buying power of Climate Mayors cities to reduce the costs of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for cities, counties, courts, school districts, state governments and public universities, thereby accelerating fleet transitions.

“The school district is not only committed to preparing our students for their place in the world, but we want to hand them a better world,” Tomko said. “We know that the addition of electric buses will help us do our part to keep Belleville cleaner and greener.”

The zero-emission school buses fit into the district’s daily routes because they mimic what the old diesel buses accomplished but without the extra fumes and incurred costs. To further reduce the operational cost of the buses, the district plans to charge the buses during overnight non-peak hours when electricity costs less.

The district estimates that using the new school buses will also reduce maintenance costs by about 60% based on a preliminary evaluation since the buses have no transmission and few moving parts. Savings will come from not having to change oil, fix radiators and more.

“Thanks to the grant funding, we expect that our return on investment will be quick while allowing us to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time providing economic and environmental benefits to our community,” Paladino said. “In fact, one bus will reduce the amount of CO2 in the air by approximately 25 tons per year and will also reduce the noise pollution in the area.”

Two Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations (Clipper Creek CS-100 with 80 Amp charging power) were installed and each station cost $2,500.  Each electric bus will have up to a 125-mile range on a single charge and will hold about 54 passengers. The buses are expected to be on the road, picking up and dropping off Belleville students, in 2023.

Comparing Costs The cost of adding electric and alternative fuel vehicles to a school district fleet varies depending on the type of vehicle. The good news is that while the initial purchase price of the vehicles may be higher than their conventional corollaries, nearly all of the options have a lower lifetime usage cost. For example, the breakeven point on an electric school bus is significantly shorter than that of a diesel bus. 

Overall, electric vehicles, including passenger class plug-in EVs, move closer to price parity with comparable gas-powered cars each year. Projections suggest that price parity for initial purchase price will be realized in 2025. However, with the reduced fueling and maintenance costs of today’s electric vehicles, purchase cost comparisons can be misleading because savings on operations and maintenance may offset these price differences.

Options to reduce the cost of procuring electric vehicles are covered in the Sustainable Jersey Alternative Fuel Vehicle Procurement Guide. This guide includes assistance for finding funding sources; tax credits and procurement options; fleet leasing; purchasing cooperatives and government contracts; direct purchase options; and service contracts/shared service options.

Other New Jersey funding options include:

Sustainable Jersey for Schools: Energy Actions Over a thousand New Jersey schools and 64% of school districts are participating in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program, which provides guidance, support and recognition to schools that implement steps to be sustainable in their operations and proactive in preparing students for the challenges they will face in the future. New Jersey schools are taking the lead in becoming more energy efficient, making use of renewable energy sources, and benefiting from many advanced energy solutions, such as building automation systems.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools has 105 certification actions within 22 categories. The energy-focused actions cover energy efficiency, renewable energy, student engagement and community outreach, and alternative fuel vehicles. For each certification action in the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program, there is an explanation of how to implement the action, why it is important and if there is a cost involved. There are also examples of New Jersey schools that have achieved it.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools Technical Assistance Sustainable Jersey offers grants and technical assistance to New Jersey schools and school districts to help achieve certification. Over $6.5 million in grants have been provided to towns, school districts and schools for community-based sustainability projects. To set up a consultation with Sustainable Jersey for Schools staff, email schools@sustainablejersey.com. For more information visit the website.

Kristy Ranieri is communications consultant for Sustainable Jersey.

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