EP Schools seeks federal grants to purchase 10 electric buses

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The Eden Prairie School District has applied to receive more than $2.5 million in grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help purchase 10 electric school buses and charging systems.

The EPA allows eligible districts to replace up to 25 buses. But eligible buses must be 2010 or older models, which reduces the amount of grants available.

“EP currently operates only 10 buses in our fleet in this range,” Jason Mutzenberger, executive director of the business services district, said in an email to EPLN. “We asked (in June) to replace the 10 with these funds.”

While the district likely won’t qualify for full replacement costs, it does qualify for significant funding, Mutzenberger said.

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“There is reduced funding available for non-priority school districts, amounting to $250,000 per bus plus $13,000 in additional funding per electric bus for charging infrastructure,” he said.

In order to qualify for full priority grant amounts, which would pay for up to 25 new school buses, districts must meet a student poverty level standard of 20% or greater in the community they serve.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau puts Eden Prairie’s student poverty level at 19.1%, Mutzenberger said.

The EPA wants districts to commit to using the new buses for five years, one year longer than most districts lease their buses. “EP (owns) its buses,” Mutzenberger said, “so the EPA’s 5-year retention requirement is not an issue.

“We currently keep our buses for 15 years and expect to operate the electric buses for a similar period,” he said.

EPA National Program

The EPA’s Clean School Bus program began this year with a budget of $500 million to cover the purchase of electric buses and charging infrastructure. It is intended to replace diesel-fueled buses, which comprise Eden Prairie’s entire 104-vehicle school bus fleet.

Electric buses are considered a clean alternative to diesel buses. “EV (electric vehicle) buses have zero tailpipe emissions and would therefore improve the air quality in our community and improve the health of our children,” Mutzenberger said.

Electric buses currently cost around $350,000 each, according to the district bus vendor. This would leave a balance of $100,000 per bus. (Diesel buses cost $110,000.)

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is offering the ability to match funds up to $125,000 per bus plus $7,000 for each charging station, Mutzenberger said. “We must first receive funds through the EPA in order to apply for these matching funds,” he said.

“If the school district were to receive funds to fully implement 10 electric buses, we would free up other district funds that would directly benefit students and classrooms,” he said.

In the meantime, Mutzenberger said, the district will continue to budget for bus replacements at $110,000 each in the event that grant funds are not granted.

Maintenance savings

In addition to charging stations, electric buses would require improvements to the district’s transport garage infrastructure. That cost would vary depending on whether the district purchases a trickle- or fast-charging system, Mutzenberger said. “Depending on our bus seller, prices range from $9,000 to $50,000 per bus depending on the charger we purchase,” he said.

Some of those costs would be offset by cheaper maintenance costs, Mutzenberger said. “Maintenance costs drop significantly, especially since there are far fewer moving parts in an EV bus engine,” he said. “The rest of the bus is the same; bodywork/repairs, tires, brakes, filters, etc. and associated costs would continue.

Electric buses would also require additional training in mechanics and driving to properly maintain the buses and drive them efficiently, Mutzenberger said. “We will implement a training program if/when we implement electric buses. If we get those funds, we expect them to be available in 2024.”

The EPA will notify applicants in October if they receive grants, Mutzenberger said.

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