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Electric school buses coming to 25 Michigan school districts

A collection of school districts will soon be replacing their aging buses with new, electric or low-emission ones as a part of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program.

HOPKINS, Mich — Through a lottery-like system, a total of 389 school districts across the U.S. were selected for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program, an almost $1 billion federal rebate that replaces existing school buses with electric or low-emission school buses to improve air quality nationwide.

The EPA received around 2,000 applications. Of those 389 selected, 25 were from Michigan – including Hopkins Public Schools in Allegan County.

The rural district has a total fleet of 22 buses, their transportation supervisor Jennifer Frank said, all of which currently rely on diesel fuel.

In total, they will be receiving three electric buses and the corresponding equipment to power them. A price tag of $1.185 million that the federal government will be paying for.

“It's something we didn't explore because of the price point before, but this makes it explorable to us,” Frank said. “We know that they won't fit everywhere because we are rural and the distances we have to go to do some of the things we do will probably be a little too much for them, but we're open-minded to mix their fleet and make sure that we're using our resources as best we can where we can.”

More than half of their student population utilize their buses – as many as 900 at some times, Frank said.

“It is a much higher award than we are used to, so the fact that we got picked is refreshing,” she said. “It's nice – we get to be the stepping stones for rural districts.”

The electric buses will be made by the manufacturer Blue Bird, and will be similar to the vehicles they already have.

The federal rebate is a result of President Joe Biden’s 2021 Infrastructure Law. In total, the program will fund the replacement of 2,500 school buses nationwide, the EPA’s website states.

On Wedneday, Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about the investment on her visit to Seattle.

“Today, 95% of our school buses are fueled with diesel fuel, which contributes to very serious conditions that are about health and about the ability to learn,” Harris said. “What we’re announcing today is a step forward in our nation’s commitment to be a leader on these issues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to invest in our economy, to invest in job creation, to invest in building the skills of America’s workforce — all with, as that young leader this morning said to me, a goal of not only saving our children, but, for them, saving our planet.”

But because of the costs of going electric is so great, Hopkins Public Schools superintendent Gary Wood said they will only continue that route through the means of similar eco-friendly programs.

“In the future, I would think it's going to be the same,” Wood said. “Just — the cost of the electric buses is so much more than the standard diesel bus.”

The district has utilized EPA-related funding the last few years, he adds. Though the process of replacing aging buses is nothing new, Wood said the program was able to provide a useful opportunity.

“You can't let these buses deteriorate so they can't be used,” Wood said. “They have inspections that they have to pass and you need to have a replacement cycle and, you know, this grant certainly helps us in that.”

The buses are said to be available to the Hopkins Public Schools in 2023.

Other school districts in Michigan’s western half that were also awarded include Pentwater Public Schools, Hartford Public Schools, Cassopolis Public Schools, Homer Community School District and the Pellston Public School District.

A list of all award recipients can be found here. The EPA also has an interactive map of all the rebates on their website.

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