Plugged in and Powered Up at Palmyra-Eagle Area School District

Plugged in and Powered Up at Palmyra-Eagle Area School District

“About six years ago, this school district was on the verge of dissolving for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Ryan Krohn, district administrator. “When we doubled down our efforts as a board to stay open, we said we’d invest in innovation and sustainable efforts.”

In the fall of 2022, the district applied for the Clean Bus Program Grant through the EPA, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As they charted their path forward, the leaders of the Palmyra-Eagle Area School District had to shift their thinking about the future, which ultimately led to electric buses.

When the school district learned about the EPA grant, they brought the idea of transitioning to electric buses to the school board. Together, district leaders and the board looked at how this change aligned with their goals of safe, healthy, and effective schools.

“We knew it was going to require new thinking, new experiences, and ultimately, we looked at this as a starting spot to transform our system,” Krohn said.

When considering the transition to electric school buses, the district looked at efficiencies that would be gained, not only in terms of the costs from fuel savings but also in terms of health, safety, and the environment. Addressing these aspects required the district to strengthen and build new partnerships with key stakeholders. This included energy utilities, local police, the transportation company they work with, and many other partners. Thanks to the support they received in return, they became the first school district in Wisconsin to start using electric buses to transport their students.

“There’s no way our school district, being led by someone like myself, was going to be able to be able to pull this off (alone),” Krohn said .”My background is not in this.”

The district was ultimately awarded $2 million dollars, enough for six electric school buses. Since receiving the buses, Ryan has been participating in webinars and other events to share the story of Palymra-Eagle’s journey. That journey and the connections they made along the way have led to the district leaders altering how they look at their 10-year capital plan. It has also led to greater engagement with the community.

“Our recent efforts, just because of this, ended up in our community donating money for a new greenhouse,” Krohn said. “We have a strong agricultural program in our school district.”

Both the electric school buses and this new greenhouse serve as educational tools for the students of the Palymra-Eagle School district. As Dr. Krohn said, it also empowers their students and engages them in thinking about the shifts that need to happen for our energy future.

Electric School Buses Arrive in Wisconsin

Electric School Buses Arrive in Wisconsin

The Palmyra-Eagle Area School District, in collaboration with Dousman Transport Company, has deployed Wisconsin’s first registered electric school buses. The new buses were funded through the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Program.

The community joined the district for a celebration on Wednesday, October 25, at the Irving L. Young Community Center on the Palmyra-Eagle Middle and High School campus. Palmyra-Eagle Area School District not only has the first registered electric school buses in Wisconsin but is the first district to switch over its entire fleet to electric.

Ryan Krohn, Palmyra-Eagle School District Superintendent, said, “As we look at where we’re going, in our mission statement we talk about the word innovation, and while our school district prides itself on performance excellence, there’s also a time for us to think about the future and sustainability.”

Krohn’s Full Comments:

 

The new superintendent also noted that the buses will help to keep district dollars in the classroom and support learning.

When considering whether to apply for the funding former Palmyra-Eagle School District Gray asked, “What do we save in fuel costs?”

Upon learning that number he determined quickly that it was a done deal.

“We’ve got to do this, we’re talking $50,000 – $60,000 on up in fuel savings and that’s a big number to our district here,” Gray said.

The district received $2.4 million through the Clean Bus Program to acquire all six electric school buses and install charging stations. The Clean Bus Program, which is funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, covered the full cost of the buses for the district.

Fourteen additional Wisconsin schools, which also received Clean Bus Program funding, will receive their buses over the next few months.

By giving districts the opportunity to acquire these buses without having to use district dollars they are able to immediately start saving on fuel costs.

During the celebration one bus driver noted that fully charging the bus they were driving only cost $4. For perspective that’s less than a single gallon of diesel at the time of writing.

The implementation of electric buses will lead to healthier communities and smoother, quieter rides for students. Fully charged, the electric buses, manufactured by IC Bus, can travel around 135 miles. This transition to electric school buses means healthier, quieter rides for the approximately 325 Palmyra-Eagle students who currently take the bus to school.

“In all my years of administration I’ve never seen such excitement over yellow buses,” Gray said.

RENEW Wisconsin Hosts Electric School Bus Events

RENEW Wisconsin Hosts Electric School Bus Events

On Wednesday, September 20, RENEW Wisconsin held multiple events focused on the benefits electric school buses (ESB) can bring to Wisconsin. The EPA’s Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion over five years to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models. RENEW worked with Lion Electric to bring an electric school bus to Wisconsin, promoting the health and financial benefits of clean transportation.

 To start the day, RENEW held private tours of a Lion Electric school bus for Republican Legislators in conjunction with the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum and private tours for Democratic Legislators in conjunction with Wisconsin Conservation Voters. Both events provided a platform for attendees to ask questions about the bus and program to Lion Electric and RENEW Staff.

After the private tours, RENEW and Lion Electric staff opened the electric bus tours to the public, inviting passersby and anyone interested to ride the bus around the Capitol and ask questions of the experts.

RENEW and Lion Electric ended the day at Forest Edge Elementary School, offering the opportunity to tour the bus, hear from students why they want to electrify their school’s transportation, and tour the Forest Edge facility, Wisconsin’s first net zero school!

RENEW was grateful for the opportunity to bring an electric school bus
to the public and private sectors. The EPA announced the opening of
its 2023 Clean School Bus Program on September 28, 2023, which will remain open until January 31, 2024. To learn more or ask questions about this
program, please reach out to us at info@renewwisconsin.org.


Speeches from Forest Edge: 

Why do fifth graders want Electric School Buses? 
Why do Seniors want Electric School Buses?

2023 Clean School Bus Rebate Program Now Open!

2023 Clean School Bus Rebate Program Now Open!

The EPA has made $500 million in rebate funding available for the 2023 Clean School Bus (CSB) Rebate Program. The application period opened on September 28 and will remain open until January 31, 2024. This is the second rebate funding opportunity through the multi-year funding program.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched this program to help school districts purchase new, cleaner school buses for little or no cost. The Clean School Bus Program funds the replacement of existing diesel and gas-powered buses with cleaner buses that result in better air quality on the bus, near bus loading areas, and in the community generally. This program not only protects the health of children and the environment but also reduces operational costs for schools.

2023 Clean School Bus Rebates Overview

The EPA is prioritizing applications from high-need, rural, and Tribal school districts. There are nearly 100 Wisconsin school districts on the priority list. School Districts are eligible to receive rebates of up to $345,000 per school bus, up to 25 buses per district. These funds are also intended to cover the cost of charging infrastructure.

The deadline to apply for this year’s rebate program is January 31, 2024. School districts that previously applied for CSB funding may reapply if they meet eligibility requirements. Applicants on the 2022 CSB Rebate waitlist must also reapply.

 

Important Dates

Activity

Date

Online Rebates Application Period September 28, 2023 – January 31, 2024
Final date to submit questions January 10, 2024
EPA reviews rebate applications and begins the selection process February 2024
EPA notifies applicants of selection and posts selectees online. Selectees can proceed with purchasing new buses and eligible infrastructure April 2024
Selectees submit Payment Request Forms with purchase orders April 2024 – October 2024
Deadline to receive new buses, install EV chargers, replace old buses, and submit final documentation April 2026

The following entities are eligible to apply for EPA school bus rebates:

  • State and local governmental entities that provide bus services, such as public school districts, including charter schools, with an NCES District ID.
  • Eligible contractors such as for profit or nonprofit entities that have the capacity to sell or finance clean or zero-emissions school buses or related charging infrastructure to school bus owners.
  • Nonprofit school transportation associations.
  • Indian Tribes, Tribal organizations, or tribally controlled schools responsible for the purchase of school buses or providing school bus service for a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) funded school.

For questions about eligibility, please contact cleanschoolbus@epa.gov.  

For more information on electric school buses, route planning assistance, and applying to the Clean School Bus Program, contact RENEW at info@renewwisconsin.org.

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 RENEW at info@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 RENEW at info@renewwisconsin.org.