For the past two years, Lewis County Rural Electric Cooperative (LCREC) has been working with its northeast-Missouri school systems to secure funding for electric school buses. The hard work paid off as the Knox County R-1 School District expects to receive its first electric bus—a brand new LionC 65-passenger model from Lion Electric—in late December or early January. A second school system, Lewis County C-1 School District, hopes to receive its own Lion Electric bus by the middle of next year.
“Improving air quality and the health of staff and students was the school superintendent’s priority,” LCREC CEO and General Manager Todd Schroeder said. “Bus drivers and students are exposed to diesel fumes every day. Another benefit will be the cost savings the school districts will see on fuel and maintenance expenses.”
According to the manufacturer, the energy cost savings for a Lion Electric school bus are 60 to 80 percent compared with a diesel bus, which is significant since fuel is the second-largest expense for operators; depreciation is the first. Additionally, there is a 60 percent reduction in maintenance costs for electric versus diesel buses, since electric buses have no transmission, exhaust, diesel particulate filter, or oil and fewer motor and body parts to change than a diesel bus. That leads to a lower total cost of ownership for the zero-emission vehicles, although the initial purchase price is significantly higher.
“After Knox County R-1 Superintendent Andy Turgeon spent months on research and numerous calls to other school systems, he found that the Lion Electric school bus had the best combination of features for what we need in Missouri,” Schroeder explained.
For example, Knox County does not have a bus barn to store buses overnight, so the ability to charge in sub-freezing temperatures is important. The buses also have hydraulic brakes, which improves the mileage range since there is no compressor kicking on to use the battery. The buses also have onboard telematics to help monitor operations and assist the bus mechanic.
“The new school buses will form the basis of a pilot project to test whether an electric bus can be efficient on all of the routes through different terrain and under various weather conditions,” Schroeder said.
“We’ll also focus on the return on investment compared with diesel buses,” he added. “The data we collect will be used to inform school districts in Missouri, as well as other electric cooperatives, of the viability of an all-electric bus fleet.” A daily blog is being developed to share data with those interested.
The Lion Electric buses are capable of bi-directional charging, which enables the batteries to serve as a peak shaving tool by using them to store power overnight and release it during the day, which may be especially beneficial during the summer when the buses may be sitting idle.
“We do plan to look at grid interconnection options as well as peak shaving,” Schroeder said. “We will also install an interconnect switch with the schools to enable the buses to provide emergency backup power.”
The $338,000 purchase cost of the Knox County bus was funded by a $122,500 USDA grant, a 50-percent-of-cost grant of $169,000 from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and contributions from LCREC and its generation and transmission cooperative, Associated Electric Cooperative (AECI).
Lewis County received a $53,200 award from USDA and a similar 50-percent-of-cost grant from the Missouri DNR, as well as contributions from LCREC and AECI.
The DNR grants, awarded via lottery, were funded from Missouri’s Volkswagen Diesel Emissions Environmental Mitigation Trust, created as part of a 2016 settlement of U.S. claims that Volkswagen violated the Clean Air Act by selling vehicles with emission defeat devices that enabled them to illegally pass EPA emission tests. The settlement required Volkswagen to pay $2.9 billion into a national environmental mitigation trust fund. States must use the proceeds to fund projects that reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide from mobile sources. Missouri received $41 million.
“Early in the process, AECI and LCREC urged the DNR to set up a separate lottery for all-electric school buses,” Schroeder said. “In the past there had been only one lottery and electric vehicles were competing with traditional diesel school buses for funding. DNR agreed to add a separate lottery this year, and funded it with $2 million to be used for all-electric school buses.”
Member reaction to the electric bus program has been very positive. “The Knox County R-1 school system and its community are extremely excited about getting the electric school bus and are hoping to learn more about all the benefits of electric vehicles,” Schroeder said.
Serving approximately 7,000 meters, LCREC sees electric vehicles (EVs) as a great way to potentially increase load in the years ahead.
“From our perspective, load growth is the primary take-away from the expansion of EVs,” Schroeder shared. “The location of our service territory is a perfect commuting distance to larger urban employers in our area,” which should enhance the attraction of EVs for LCREC members.
“Through multiple articles in local papers and other news sources, LCREC has worked to inform our membership of the advantages of EVs. We also purchased Choose EV—an add-on module for our website—that provides information and calculators about EVs.”
The cooperative also offers a $1,000 EV purchase rebate and a $250 home charger rebate. And it recently adopted an EV rate that utilizes a time-of-use discount.
“With complete support from our board of directors we installed the first Level 2 charger in front of our office, available at no charge to the community,” Schroeder added. “That has brought many conversations about EVs to the area that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred.”
“We view our EV program as a great opportunity to give back to our rural communities,” Schroeder concluded. “Assisting in securing funding for electric school buses and other EV projects has become our economic development focus.”
Published Dec. 14, 2020, in CFC Solutions News Bulletin.