Electrifying Madison’s Bus Fleet

Electrifying Madison’s Bus Fleet

Within the next 12 months, the City of Madison plans to transition about a third of its 192-bus fleet to all-electric buses, a feat made possible through funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The transition is expected to improve riders’ experiences while maintaining overall services.

The new 60-foot buses, manufactured by New Flyer, boast a range of 152 miles and will be supported by charging station infrastructure installed at the end of each route. Riders can expect a quieter, emission-free ride without an increase in bus fare.

“Ultimately, what we wanted to make sure what happened was that the transition to electric did not impact service quality by limiting range or increasing downtime,” said Justin Stuehrenberg, City of Madison Metro Transit General Manager.

The drivers, the people making sure the buses get where they’re going, will also experience an upgrade in their experience with the buses. While training with the buses, drivers have quickly learned how to handle the additional length of 60-foot buses.

“It just took like two turns for me to get used to it, our brains are thinking this is a 60-foot bus, so I need to turn a little bit different,” said Nicodemus Braxton, Transit Operator and Operator Instructor. “I was really wide in those first two turns. I didn’t have to make the turns that wide, I could just make it like it’s a 40-foot bus. Actually, it turns a little bit better because it’s 30 feet and then 30 feet. You’re really just worried about the first 30 feet.”

Braxton noted that the drivers he has trained all had similar experiences, and many appreciate the upgrades that come with the new buses. Additional features like a quiet ride, brake interlock, and wheelchair securement system, to name a few, will improve the level of comfort and safety for riders and drivers alike.

Nicodemus Braxton on one of the new electric buses.

“The brake interlock is going to be really good for us,” Braxton said. He explained that the interlock, engaged by holding the brake for two seconds, locks the brakes, which will help drivers keep the bus in place on hills and prevent driver fatigue.

The new wheelchair securement system, known as Qstraint, will also make it easier for those using wheelchairs or other mobility devices to safely seat themselves on the bus without much assistance from the driver. This will help to give riders who use such devices more autonomy during their commutes.

Additional enhancements include a more spacious interior, the ability to enter the buses from any of their five doors, and interior bike storage.

These upgrades are all thanks to the $75 million in federal funding the city received through BIL and the FAST Act, which covered about 80% of the cost of the 62 electric buses. More than $48 million of those funds came through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program between 2020-2023. The program makes competitive grants available to states and direct recipients like the City of Madison for the purpose of purchasing, replacing, or rehabilitating buses and bus infrastructure, including changes and innovations focused on low and no-emission vehicles.

“46 of them (buses) are funded through the bus rapid transit project, which is federally funded,” Stuehrenberg said. “It’s an infrastructure project that also includes the buses, and so we were able to leverage the money we already had programmed for bus replacement…”

In 2023, the city was awarded $37.9 million through the Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program, which paid for an additional 16 buses. Those 16 buses are meant to support high ridership routes along the university and campus area and some of the routes out to EPIC Systems in Verona.

These 62 buses were almost completely paid for through grants and will help the city save on fuel costs and, eventually, maintenance costs. The upfront costs of training staff as well as purchasing new tools and parts will cause an initial delay in costs savings from reduced maintenance, but a reduction in oil changes and other service work will ultimately save the city money.

In the meantime, the city continues to capitalize on the available BIL funding and has again applied for a grant in hopes of adding another 15 electric buses to its fleet. Earlier this year the FTA announced the availability of $1.5 billion in funding for the Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program.

Electric buses may eventually be implemented on lower-frequency routes, once expected improvements to electric buse technology arrive on the market. This will allow for buses that can run full routes without the need for on-route charging infrastructure.

“Our hope is that over the next couple years is there will finally be a bus that can get through an entire day’s cycle on a single charge, and we won’t need to build those charging facilities,” Stuehrenberg said. “For now, our expectation is that these 62 will be the extent of what we can do with these high-frequency routes.”

Stuehrenberg noted that the city is considering adding additional hybrid buses to service the low-frequency routes.

Supporting Solar Access for Wisconsin’s Low- and Moderate-Income Families

Supporting Solar Access for Wisconsin’s Low- and Moderate-Income Families

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the recipients of the Solar for All grants, with $124 million in funding awarded to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and Midwest Tribal Energy Resources Association (MTERA). This influx of resources will help to accelerate our state’s clean energy transition.

Solar for All will increase access to renewable energy for around 15,000 Wisconsin homes, including single-family, multi-family, or community solar projects. The grant awarded to WEDC will bring $62,450,000 to the state of Wisconsin, this historic investment will increase solar access for Wisconsinites across both rural and urban communities.

This down payment on our state’s clean economy signals a new day for renewable energy solutions for all Wisconsinites. RENEW applauds this critical step toward increased solar access and how it ensures every community can participate and benefit from clean energy. Communities across the state will experience reduced reliance on fossil fuels and expanded clean energy job creation as we build a healthier, more equitable clean energy future.

More on Solar for All:

• The Solar for All competition, which was created by the Inflation Reduction Act’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), will expand the number of low-income and disadvantaged homes primed for residential solar investment.

• Wisconsin is one of 60 states, territories, Tribal governments, municipalities, and eligible nonprofits awarded grants to create and expand low-income solar programs that provide financing and technical assistance, such as workforce development, to enable low-income and disadvantaged households and communities to deploy and benefit from residential solar.

• The Solar for All competition will provide more than $7 billion nationwide to increase access to affordable, resilient, and clean solar energy for millions of low-income households.

RENEW congratulates Governor Tony Evers, WEDC, and MTERA on their work to ensure our state continues to bring renewable energy commitments to our state. This funding will help advance environmental justice efforts by enabling low-income households to access clean, resilient solar power, lowering energy costs, and creating good jobs in underserved areas. 

 

Charging Ahead on EV Infrastructure

On March 12, 2024, the Wisconsin State Senate passed Bills 791 and 792, allowing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to charge by unit of electricity instead of time spent charging. The bill helps provide clean energy access to all Wisconsinites and is a testament to Wisconsin’s commitment to embracing new, proven clean energy technologies. The new law addresses several critical areas to standardize EV usage and infrastructure deployment for private developers. Let’s dive into some of the key parts.

NEVI Funding Unleashed

The cornerstone of the bill is the activation of National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) funding for “Level 3” fast chargers. This funding, totaling a substantial $78 million of federal dollars for Wisconsin, will be channeled toward the building, operation, and maintenance of fast-charging stations across the state. These fast chargers, capable of significantly reducing charging times for longer trips, are vital for reducing range anxiety. 

Charging All Over the State, Not Just in Cities

NEVI funding also avoids putting the cart before the horse by providing charging stations across the state, along highway routes for the next five years, paying for the cost of the station, the operations, and the maintenance. Check out the map below to see the routes.

Jobs, Training, Reliability & Safety

But the bill doesn’t stop there. It also emphasizes the importance of training, ensuring that those responsible for these chargers are equipped with the skills necessary to maintain their reliability and safety. Chargers must be operable at least 97% of the time to receive the funding. This commitment to training not only boosts job opportunities but also ensures that the infrastructure remains robust and dependable.

Protects Level 1 and Level 2 Chargers

The Legislation clarifies that residential Level 1 and Level 2 chargers are clear of tax and regulation. It also provides regulatory certainty for groups looking to install public level 1 and level 2 chargers to avoid classification as a public utility, clearing up a large regulatory hurdle for EV Charging implementation. This protection ensures that these residential and light commercial chargers have a realistic path forward in Wisconsin. This move is a win for EV owners and businesses alike, fostering a more flexible and user-friendly charging landscape.

Tax and Road Fund

A tax, similar to the gas tax, of 3 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity used for charging will be implemented for public EV chargers. This measure brings EVs in line with gas and diesel cars. Charging by the kWh also ensures customers pay for the amount of fuel received instead of the amount of time spent charging, a policy that favored individuals with more expensive cars. Now, all users will pay a fair price for their power and end the inequity of time-based charging. Unfortunately, EVs are still required to pay $175 for registration, $75 more than fossil fuel cars.

This bill pairs regulatory certainty for charging station owners with equitable locations and rates for EV drivers. The bill also clarifies how and when local governments can own EV charging stations, and does not effectively change the situations of previously existing chargers.

 

If you have any questions contact our staff attorney, Orrie Walsvik.

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.

Getting EV Charging Stations Installed in WI: Options Through Zoning and Building Codes

The number of electric vehicles (EVs) is increasing rapidly in the U.S. and worldwide. Wisconsin saw an increase from 319 EV registrations in 2013 to 9,039 EV registrations in 2021 and 13,893 EV registrations in 2022. The increase is driven by several factors, including advances in technology, cost savings for EV owners, decisions made by state policymakers, and commitments by automakers. By the year 2030, there may be as many as 19 million EVs on the road in the U.S. 

Adopting EV charging standards can save businesses and homeowners money because it’s much less expensive to install EV charging infrastructure during new construction than it is to retrofit buildings after they are built. Municipalities need to plan for the increasing number of EVs and the cost savings of installing EV charging infrastructure during new construction so that residents can access charging stations at businesses and their homes.

What Policies Help Ensure EV Readiness?

In Wisconsin, the two main tools that take advantage of building and parking infrastructure to move us toward EV readiness are zoning and building codes. The following offers a short explanation of each policy tool, its current status in Wisconsin, and examples.

Zoning

More than fifty state and local governments in the U.S. have enacted zoning ordinance amendments or building code amendments to ensure EV readiness. Each local government decides individually which provisions to include in their general zoning ordinances. Zoning ordinance amendments for EV chargers typically have three components:

  1. EV charging definitions
  2. Designated zoning districts for EV charging stations
  3. Requirements for electrical wiring and other infrastructure for EV chargers in new construction (optional)

When deciding where EV charges will be permitted, it is important to keep in mind that, unlike gas stations, EV charging stations don’t create the risk of fuel spills, underground fuel leaks, or fumes. Example approaches include:

  1. Allowing Charging stations in all zoning districts as was done in Des Moines, IA
  2. Allowing level 1 and 2 charging stations in all districts and allowing level 3 fast chargers in industrial and highway commercial districts as was done in Chelan, WA

You can choose from the menu of zoning provisions for EV chargers in Ready for Electric Vehicles? Modifying Local Land Use Policies starting on page 8 to tailor ordinance provisions to fit your community.

State and Local Building Codes

Wisconsin has a state-level Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC) and a Commercial Code that are adopted by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Public Services. This does not include standards for wiring or other EV charging infrastructure. Municipalities cannot alter these building codes, so they are precluded from including EV charging station requirements. This is true for the state’s Uniform Dwelling Code for one and two-family dwellings and the state’s commercial building code. 

Many states and municipalities use the International Building Code as their base code and may add additional standards to tailor the code to their community. 

  • International Building Code. The International Building Code (IBC) is updated every three years, and the 2021 code went into effect in October 2021. The IBC is a set of voluntary guidelines used by many states. The 2021 IBC calls for one EV-ready parking space, which means installing panels, outlets, and conduits capable of charging at least one full-size EV in a single-family garage overnight. Multi-family buildings will need two EV-ready parking spaces, along with more that can be easily retrofitted, a standard known as EV-capable. The decision to install an EV charger is left to the property owner. 
  • State and local building codes:
    • In the central part of the U.S., Minnesota, Kansas, and North Dakota have adopted the 2018 IBC in their state building codes.
    • In contrast, Wisconsin has its own residential code, known as the Uniform Dwelling Code (UDC) for one and two-family dwellings based on the 2009 IBC, and a commercial building code based on the 2015 IBC.
    • On August 10, 2023, the Wisconsin Senate Housing, Rural Issues, and Forestry Committee rejected an update to bring the state’s commercial building codes up to date with the 2021 IBC.
  • A Wisconsin law passed in 2013 established a uniform statewide commercial building code and prohibits municipalities from adopting or enforcing their own standards, making Wisconsin one of only three states to restrict local control, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Similarly, the Wisconsin UDC does not allow municipalities to adopt more stringent standards. The current Wisconsin building codes do not include standards for EV charging standards, and communities cannot add these standards to their building code. Wisconsin is working on updating its building codes, which are outdated. Big EV infrastructure questions in these updates are as follows:
    • Will Wisconsin adopt a UDC and commercial code that includes current EV infrastructure standards?
    • Will Wisconsin change from one-size-fits-all UDC and commercial code to allow communities to choose to tailor their building codes, which could include requiring EV-ready parking spaces?

Takeaways

Driving electric has many benefits. The number of EVs and EV charging stations are increasing rapidly. While current EV drivers in the U.S. charge 80% of the time at home, one-third of Wisconsin households rent their home and do not get to decide if EV charging is available where they park. The installation of EV charging infrastructure is four to six times less expensive when included during new construction versus a building retrofit. Because of this, EV charging standards in building codes and zoning ordinances can save businesses and homeowners money. 

Each local government decides individually which provisions to include in their general zoning ordinances. Zoning ordinances are useful tools for local governments to indicate where public EV charging is allowed or prohibited. Local governments may also choose to require electrical wiring and other infrastructure for EV chargers in new construction.

EV charging standards are not included in the current statewide Wisconsin UDC or commercial building code. Current Wisconsin laws do not allow communities to voluntarily add EV charging standards to their building codes. When tailoring EV charging standards to fit communities, we can learn from the many states and communities that have already amended their zoning ordinances and building codes to ensure EV readiness.

Lynn MarkhamCenter for Land Use Education
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.