Electric School Buses – the Clean and Cost-Effective Transportation Solution for Your Community and School District.

Electric School Buses – the Clean and Cost-Effective Transportation Solution for Your Community and School District.

Electric school buses have zero tailpipe emissions, offering clean and healthy rides and reducing operating expenses. However, the upfront cost of $375,000 is a significant barrier. Fortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean School Bus Program allows school districts in all 50 states to replace old diesel buses with new electric buses at no cost.

Last month, I drove a school bus for the first time. Despite not having much experience driving large vehicles, I was pleasantly surprised by how similar it felt to driving my 2020 Chevy Bolt EV. The ride was smooth and quiet, and the regenerative braking system made it easy to control the large bus without needing to use the brakes too often. Overall, it was a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

The electric bus I drove – a LionC electric school bus – can carry 77 students for up to 155 miles on a single charge. This bus was fresh off the assembly line at the new LION assembly plant in Joliet, IL. The plant is located about 90 miles south of the Wisconsin border and is North America’s largest electric school bus assembly plant. The plant opened earlier this year and will support 1,400 Clean Energy Jobs and produce 20,000 fully electric school buses and electric trucks per year.  

Why Clean School Buses? 

Every day, more than 25 million American children rely on school buses for safe transport to and from school, collectively covering over three billion miles each year. However, the exhaust from these buses can harm human health, particularly for children whose lungs are still developing. To address this issue, the Clean School Bus Program provides rebates and grants to replace existing diesel and gas-powered buses with cleaner models. This initiative aims to improve air quality as well as the safety and well-being of our students, their bus drivers, and the surrounding communities.

Electric school buses are both cleaner and cheaper to operate than diesel buses. On average, diesel buses use 6 miles per gallon [mpg], while electric buses boost that efficiency to an equivalent of 17 mpg. Electric school buses can save more than $170,000 on fuel and maintenance throughout their lifespan. Furthermore, Wisconsin’s lack of petroleum production means that switching to electric buses can keep our energy dollars in the state, support local jobs, and contribute to the state’s general economic growth.

Wisconsin Schools are Going Electric!

Last fall, 15 school districts in Wisconsin took advantage of the Clean School Bus Program and were awarded 65 electric school buses scheduled to be delivered by October 2024. The EPA is now preparing for a second round of rebates, which will be announced this fall. Schools and transportation contractors can apply online for Clean School Bus rebates, which are awarded through a lottery system. Priority is given to rural, tribal, and high-need school districts. Those that qualify can receive up to $395,000 to purchase a bus and charging station in exchange for an older diesel bus for up to 25 buses. The list of prioritized school districts can be found here.

You can sign up for updates on the Clean School Bus Program and see the list of 2022 award recipients. For more information on electric school buses, route planning assistance, and applying to the EPA’s program, contact Francisco Sayu, Director of Emerging Technology at RENEW Wisconsin, at francisco@renewwisconsin.org.

Diesel School Buses Negatively Impact Children’s Health: The Solution — Electric Buses

Diesel School Buses Negatively Impact Children’s Health: The Solution — Electric Buses

Growing up in Wisconsin, I took the bus to school every day. I remember playing games outside with kids from my neighborhood as we all waited for the bus. I also remember the growing headaches, finding it odd that my asthma would worsen, and how I would often cough or struggle to catch my breath while trying to talk with my friends as we got off the bus.

I used to describe this as feeling “blah” as I started my school day. Symptoms like these are unfortunately common for children exposed to exhaust from the diesel buses they take to and from school every day.

According to 2022 data from the World Resources Institute, more than 20,000,000 U.S. children ride the school bus across the United States, and over 90% of U.S. school buses run on diesel fuel. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin School Bus Association reports that approximately 50% of school children ride the bus, with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) reporting more than 800,000 enrolled students and over 347,000 students transported. It’s also important to note that the private school students transported by Wisconsin public school districts are not included in these numbers.

While a short bus ride may seem harmless, the tailpipe emissions from a diesel bus can and do have negative impacts on children’s health, moods, and lung development. While diesel buses drive students to school or sit idling in front of schools, children are exposed to unhealthy concentrations of pollutants.

Even if a diesel bus is not pumping out black smoke, this doesn’t mean it is not releasing harmful emissions into the surrounding air. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), nitrogen oxides in diesel emissions can cause tiredness, irritability, headaches, and nausea, but greater symptoms appear in the high number of children riding to school with asthma.

Children makeup roughly 40% of all asthma cases despite representing only about 25% of the United States population, and nearly 100,000 students in Wisconsin are recorded to have asthma each year. Research has concluded that diesel exhaust can cause daily irritation of asthma, leading to an increase in the severity and frequency of asthma attacks. Such emissions can cause inflammation of the airways that can cause the onset of asthma or lead to a long-term increase in the severity of asthma.

study conducted in 2017 found that a child will typically miss three to five school days after an asthma attack, often alongside a parent or guardian who must also miss work. Reducing an asthmatic child’s exposure to diesel exhaust can decrease the number and severity of asthma attacks they may have and increase their attendance and well-being in school.

So, the headaches, lethargy, and shortness of breath I felt are among the common immediate symptoms from diesel exhaust exposure, especially for a child with asthma like I was, but what about the other long-term health effects?

Many institutions, including the Internal Agency for Research on Cancer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Toxicology Program, have concluded that diesel exhaust is a harmful carcinogen. They found that exposure to such pollution is closely tied to the development of lung cancer.

Diesel exhaust contains multiple EPA criteria air pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter, as well as over 40 chemical compounds that are classified as a Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC) by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Fine particulate matter in diesel exhaust can be especially harmful. These pollutants are smaller than 1 micron in diameter, allowing them to penetrate deep into the lungs leading to decreased lung function, further increased risk of lung cancer, and increased asthma severity.

Children, whose lungs are still developing, breathe at faster rates than adults, making them more susceptible to these health risks. In a study conducted by the NRDC titled “No Breathing in the Aisles,” scientists were able to specify just how much diesel exhaust children were exposed to on their daily routes to and from school and how this exposure threatened children’s health.

Luckily, emissions from diesel buses have improved with newer bus models since this study was completed due to EPA updates on filtration requirements, but immense volumes of diesel exhaust still spew out of school bus tailpipes today. More recently (in 2016), the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a landmark report citing research, including a 2015 University of Michigan study linking the negative effects of diesel emissions on the health of school children, particularly for those in disadvantaged groups who are more likely to ride the bus to school.

In response to the negative health link between diesel emissions and school children’s developmental health, the EPA launched the Clean School Bus USA fleet upgrade program for diesel school buses in 2013, which supported the adoption of cleaner technology, including diesel emissions controls and propane. The EPA also instituted an ongoing national idle reduction campaign for school buses and, more recently, Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) funding to reduce toxic emissions from all diesel vehicles.

The benefits of transitioning to cleaner modes of transportation are clear, especially when you consider that there is no known safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust for children. Electric school buses are a cleaner, healthier alternative to diesel buses. These vehicles lead to a 100% reduction in tailpipe emissions per diesel bus replacement. However, the daunting upfront costs often deter school districts and school bus providers from purchasing them.

The EPA has offered a solution to this expensive issue. With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, the EPA launched the  Clean School Bus (CSB) Rebates Program to assist districts in the shift to clean and zero-emissions (ZE) electric school buses for U.S. school children. This program allows school districts and third-party bus companies to apply for rebates so they can replace their old diesel buses with new electric school buses at no cost.

Lion C electric busIn fact, with the costs of recharging and maintenance for electric school buses being significantly lower than that of refueling and maintenance costs for diesel buses, school districts can save thousands of dollars every year by transitioning to these clean buses.

In the 2022 funding cycle, 15 districts in Wisconsin were awarded rebates from the EPA for a total of 65 electric school buses that are expected to go into operation during the 2024 school year. This will aid in the transition to zero carbon emissions for students in Wisconsin and positively impact their health and development going forward.

The EPA CSB Program decreases the pressure on school districts to cover the daunting upfront costs of electric school buses. With this funding, schools can feel reassured in their decision to make a cost-effective transition to cleaner, healthier buses for their students. This opportunity, however, will not be around forever. The time to take action and improve the health and well-being of Wisconsin students is now.

Sign up today to stay in touch about the Clean School Bus Program here. For further information about electric school buses, the Clean School Bus Program, and how you can help your school district transition to cleaner transportation, feel free to contact Francisco Sayu, Emerging Technologies Director at RENEW Wisconsin, at francisco@renewwisconsin.org.

Solar and Agricultural Land Use

Solar and Agricultural Land Use

Solar fields can supply abundant, clean electricity – almost one-third of Wisconsin’s consumption by 2050 – using only a small portion of the state’s agricultural land. Nonetheless, solar energy development in agricultural areas raises new discussions of land use in Wisconsin. A recent report explores Wisconsin’s agricultural trends and outlines the potential solar energy has to sustain the state’s agricultural heritage, keep Wisconsin farmers in business, and provide environmental and economic benefits to the greater public. This blog will summarize the report’s findings and discuss the implications of solar energy development on land use for farmers in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin’s changing agricultural landscape

Wisconsin’s agricultural economy has changed substantially over the last several decades due to technological advancements, improved farm practices, evolving market conditions, and other macroeconomic trends. Data from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that the amount of actively cultivated farmland has decreased by 23% since 1982, alongside the number of farm operations (from 90,000 to 64,100 in 2022).

At the same time, due to advancements in practices and technology, corn and soybean yields have increased dramatically (69% for corn and 75% for soybeans). However, the market’s oversupply has caused inflation-adjusted prices for corn to gradually decrease since 1909. Real prices for corn in 2022 are 51% lower than in 1940 and 42% lower than in 1980. Commodity price volatility has also added financial uncertainty for farmers, with farmers experiencing large annual swings in the prices received for corn. The downward trend in real prices and constant volatility in nominal prices shows why corn producers and other Wisconsin farmers face growing pressure to scale up their operations or sell their land.

Enrollment in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), an ecosystem services program aimed at improving soil health and managing the oversupply of crops, has been decreasing since the early 2000s in Wisconsin. However, about 200,000 acres of voluntarily retired farmland under the CRP in the state is planted with ground covers such as grasses, trees, and native plants in exchange for an annual payment from the federal government.

Achieving a net-zero economy in Wisconsin with solar energy

Recent trends have allowed farmers to incorporate solar developments into a portion of their property and, at the same time, continue farming and sustaining their agricultural businesses. Solar fields offer stable revenue streams for Wisconsin farmers and financial support to local governments through the state’s shared revenue formula. RENEW Wisconsin’s collaborative report, Achieving 100% Clean Energy in Wisconsin (100% Clean Energy Report), shows that solar development opportunities will grow for Wisconsin farmers over the next few decades. According to the report, solar energy will be Wisconsin’s predominant source of new emission-free electricity generation to achieve a net-zero economy. In the most economical net-zero scenario explored in the 100% Clean Energy Report, 28.3 Gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar would be installed by 2050.

Solar energy will cover a relatively small amount of land by 2050

Based on the 100% Clean Energy Report, assuming the land footprint for 1 MW of utility-scale solar is 7 acres, approximately 198,000 acres would be required to host utility-scale solar in Wisconsin by 2050. Our analysis assumed 7 acres per MW of utility-scale solar PV to account for the increased productivity of solar panels over time. As one of the leading renewable resource technologies for the clean energy transition, solar panel design and installation layout will likely improve in the coming years, meaning solar fields will generate more electricity with fewer total inputs – including land.

Building 28.3 GW of utility-scale solar capacity would require 198,000 acres of land, which is 0.57% of Wisconsin’s total land area (34.7 million acres). This would equate to 1.4% of total agricultural land (14.2 million acres) or about 2.4% of field cropland (8.4 million acres) in Wisconsin from another perspective. These percentages assume all of the 28.3 GW of solar would be sited on agricultural land, which is unlikely. Though utility-scale solar developments have predominately been sited on farmland in the past, a study from UW-Stevens Point shows the vast land area across the state that may be suitable for utility-scale solar development.

Ethanol and the future of energy farming

Farming for energy production is already common in Wisconsin, with about 37% of the corn grown used for ethanol. Wisconsin would only need to convert about 18% of corn-ethanol land to solar energy production by 2050 to achieve 28.3 GW of capacity. With a likely decrease in demand for corn-based ethanol needed by 2050 (due to the adoption of electric vehicles and substitution toward non-food crop feedstocks for biofuels), incorporating solar generation on farms is a way for Wisconsin farmers to help sustain their businesses.

A study by CLEAN Wisconsin demonstrates the efficiency of electric vehicles powered by solar energy over ethanol-powered vehicles. Their report finds that ethanol used in internal combustion engines requires about 85 times the amount of land to power the same amount of driving as solar-charged electric vehicles. Increased adoption of electric vehicles leads to decreasing gasoline demand and correspondingly diminishing the need for ethanol. With all else held constant, this trend will inexorably dampen corn prices received by the growers supplying local ethanol plants. Incorporating solar generation on farms is a way to sustain agriculture in Wisconsin, providing farmers with a stable revenue stream for years.

Co-benefits of solar energy on farms

Solar projects can provide beneficial ecosystem services to farmers and landowners in Wisconsin. Solar farms can last up to 35 years, allowing the land and soil underneath the arrays to rest and recover. Once a solar installation is decommissioned, the land can once again be farmed and will be more fertile when replanted, in contrast to residential or commercial development, which is much more permanent when complete [11]. Planting native plants and grasses amongst the arrays is becoming a standard practice, improving soil health and serving as pollinator environments.

In addition, advancements in design and technology have spurred research into agrivoltaics, or the simultaneous land use of solar energy generation and conventional agricultural activities. This co-location of activities provides many additional benefits, including dual revenue streams for the landowner and reduced heat stress on crops or grazing animals due to the shade of the solar panels. By altering the panels’ standard configurations and tilt schedules, researchers are investigating how to optimize crop yields and energy production.

Solar energy can help sustain Wisconsin farm businesses

Solar fields can supply almost one-third of Wisconsin’s electricity consumption in 2050 using a small portion of agricultural land. Nonetheless, agriculture is a significant part of Wisconsin’s economic and cultural identity, and Wisconsinites are connected to the image of Wisconsin’s landscape. As the farming industry continues to change, Wisconsin must allow farmers’ businesses to evolve. Solar developments can help family farms thrive with stable lease payments, support diverse soil health and ecosystem service benefits, and create local economic benefits. Wisconsin farmers and solar energy are helping to advance a stronger, healthier Wisconsin powered by clean energy.


RENEW Wisconsin at the 32nd MREA Energy Fair

RENEW Wisconsin at the 32nd MREA Energy Fair

Last weekend, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) hosted the 32nd Annual Energy Fair, bringing people together to learn about sustainability and clean energy, connect with others, and take action toward a sustainable future. The Fair featured workshops, exhibitors, live music, inspiring keynote speakers, family fun, great local food, and more. 

RENEW staff presented some compelling workshops and you can download slides from their presentations below.

Zero Carbon by 2050—A Path for Wisconsin

Andrew Kell, RENEW Policy Director, discussed zero-carbon goals and ongoing planning efforts in Wisconsin. Andrew also was a guest on a live podcast, focused on Wisconsin’s Net Zero future. 

MadiSUN Workforce Training

Lauren Cohen, RENEW Program Coordinator, held a workshop regarding career growth opportunities within Wisconsin’s clean energy industry, focusing primarily on opportunities within the solar industry. 

Vehicle-to-Grid: Opportunities and Challenges

Francisco Sayu, RENEW Emerging Technology Director, discussed how Vehicle-to-Grid technology unlocks the energy stored in electric vehicles and opens opportunities for energy trading, energy management, and grid resiliency. 

Farming Sunshine: Solar and Ag Land Use 

Nolan Stumpf, one of RENEW’s Interns, presented a session regarding solar farms and the opportunities and challenges of using the land for farming purposes and advancing clean energy. 

Can Clean Energy Overcome Local Opposition? 

Michael Vickerman, RENEW Clean Energy Deployment Manager, discussed the opposition clean energy faces at the local level and how to overcome those barriers. 

Electric Vehicles (EVs) — The Magic Trick That Became a Real Solution to Very Real Problems

Electric Vehicles (EVs) — The Magic Trick That Became a Real Solution to Very Real Problems

Co-authored by Julia Herkert

In 1830s Scotland, an inventor named Robert Anderson dedicated himself to a parlor trick: a horseless carriage. By connecting a battery to a carriage, Anderson astounded the public with his vehicle that could mysteriously move on its own. While this carriage ran on a non-rechargeable battery that could hardly travel a few miles before running out of power, Anderson’s prototype triggered a breakthrough that would last centuries. Today, electric vehicles (EVs) have evolved into a leading force in the push toward a healthier and more sustainable way to transport people and goods, and it all started with a magic trick.

Hopefully, at this point, we don’t have to convince anyone that air pollution is harmful. But for those that prefer data over opinions, we recommend taking a look at a recent study by the University of Wisconsin–Madison suggesting that eliminating air pollution emissions from energy-related activities in the United States would prevent more than 50,000 premature deaths and provide more than $600 billion in benefits each year from avoided illness and death.

RENEW promotes EVs for the same reasons we encourage clean energy – replacing gasoline and diesel vehicles with EVs can help reduce air pollution and produce a healthier, more vibrant Wisconsin for all. Like clean energy deployment, putting EVs on the road requires strategic technology, policy, and infrastructure coordination. This coordination is essential because the technology alone isn’t enough to produce enduring results. Let’s look at the history of EV technology in America and the policies and infrastructure we need to unlock the benefits of an electrified – pollution-free – transportation future.

EVs have been around for decades, and many waves of innovation have occurred since Anderson’s horseless carriage prototype. The most recent wave of vehicle electrification in the U.S. started with General Motors’ EV1. The EV1 was considered the first mass-market electric vehicle and utilized lead batteries for a range of about 100 miles. “It was an exciting time because the technology of an electric vehicle was obvious,” stated Annette Clayton, a former executive at General Motors, “The question was, could you make money doing it… and if the cars were available, would you start to see the infrastructure to actually charge those vehicles become available?” You can watch the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? to learn more about General Motors’ EV1 program.

Unfortunately, while demand for the EV1 was high and the car was road ready, the infrastructure wasn’t prepared for the EV1. A pattern of electric transportation technology advancing beyond available infrastructure and policy has long plagued EVs’ stable integration into everyday transportation modes. Not only this, but General Motors was not making a substantial profit from the mass production of these vehicles despite there being a high demand for them. With little to no charging infrastructure to reduce range anxiety (the fear that an electric vehicle will not have enough battery charge to reach its destination, leaving its occupants stranded) and little room for profit, General Motors bought back their EV1s and killed the electric car. Two decades later, EV technology is unquestionably ready, and several automakers are swearing to go all-EV by 2040 or sooner.

Only one percent of the 250 million cars, SUVs, and light-duty trucks on American roads are electric, but the industry projects that 25 to 30 percent of new car sales could be electric by 2030. Moreover, electric vehicle prices continue to decrease while vehicle range (the distance an EV can travel on a single charge) continues to increase. Refueling times are getting shorter, too, with some EV models capable of recharging their batteries to 80 percent in less than 18 minutes.

Now that EV technology is ready, The Federal, State, and local governments are investing in developing the necessary infrastructure. Specifically, the U.S Government plans to build a network of 500,000 EV charging stations along the main highway corridors by 2030. The National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan, or NEVI, provides funding to build EV charging stations within a mile of the main highway corridors at least every fifty miles. Wisconsin is planning to use $78.6 Million from the NEVI plan to build 62 EV charging hubs along I-90, I-94, I-39, I-41, I-43, and other highways. Check this blog post to learn more about Wisconsin’s Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (WEVI) plan.

So, what about EV policy? And why do we need policies to deploy EVs? EVs use electricity rather than petroleum fuels, and because electricity markets are heavily regulated, many aspects of EV deployment are controlled by energy regulation. For example, in Wisconsin, only public utilities are allowed to sell electricity. In other words, EV charging stations operating in Wisconsin are not allowed to charge EV drivers by the amount of electricity that goes into their EV batteries or kilowatt-hours used. Instead, EV charging stations in Wisconsin charge a parking fee as a proxy for EV charging. On our last visit to an Electrify America fast charging station, we paid $4.32 for 27 minutes of charge, billed at $0.16 per minute. These time-based rates create inequities with fast charging because EVs have different charging speeds. Put, EV drivers of slower-charging EVs pay more for electricity at public charging stations in Wisconsin than those who drive faster-charging vehicles. An example to illustrate this is that the Porsche Taycan can take up to 270 kW of power, while the Chevrolet Bolt can only handle up to 50 kW. This means that Porsche drivers pay significantly less than Chevrolet drivers when using fast charging stations that provide over 50 kW, which is unfair. The NEVI plan requires energy-based billing at all EV charging stations built with federal funding to address this issue. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is among the few states prohibiting energy-based EV charging fees. The NEVI plan also requires a minimum charging speed of 150 kW at all charging stations.

But not all EV policies are about electricity. Many EV policies address the affordability of EVs and access to home charging. For example, Vermont passed a law to help the highest-need drivers switch to EVs and save on fuel costs. The state of Illinois is creating legislation to make it easier for multifamily dwellers to access home EV charging. Other EV policies include topics related to road funding (gas tax), direct sales of EVs, and emissions standards.

The moment has finally arrived where infrastructure and policies are catching up to the advanced technologies of EVs, and these cleaner vehicles are now rightfully taking center stage in the movement toward a more sustainable future. Through technological innovation, infrastructure development, and smart policymaking, EVs provide solutions to many problems ranging from air pollution to energy security. Next time you are in the market for a new or used vehicle, you should test drive an EV. You won’t regret it!

RENEW Wisconsin Celebrates Memorial Day

RENEW Wisconsin Celebrates Memorial Day

RENEW Wisconsin was honored to participate in the Monona (WI) Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 29. Emerging Technology Director Francisco Sayu, his family, and RENEW Intern Julia Herkert attended this community celebration to honor U.S. veterans and spread awareness about electric vehicles (EVs) and Wisconsin’s clean energy future. 

“To participate in an event where staff members were able to connect with the community, but also able to honor the Americans who have given their lives serving their country, was an uplifting and memorable experience,” said Herkert. “RENEW hopes the information shared with parade attendees helps Wisconsin families understand the benefits of transitioning to EVs.”

RENEW staff walked alongside Geoff Hoffman; The owner of Hoffman Manufacturing and an advocate of clean energy, who provided a Tesla Roadster —Tesla’s first production car— to use as a parade vehicle. 

Decorated with a RENEW Wisconsin banner, the car was immediately recognized by many as Hoffman’s Tesla is a popular sight among members of the community of all ages. RENEW staff members were happy to answer questions ranging from “Are electric vehicles convenient for owners with families?” to “Woah, is that a Tesla?”. 

RENEW staff addressed many questions about EV operation and charging infrastructure. They were also able to communicate the benefits of a decarbonized Wisconsin economy. 

RENEW is grateful to Hoffman Manufacturing and the City of Monona for the opportunity to participate in this event and discuss renewable energy and electric vehicles with the Monona community.