October 28, 2022

By Hank Greenberg

Solutions to the impending climate crisis come in all shapes and sizes. Gas powered school buses are a seemingly a small innocuous stable part of our daily lives that are endangering our children.

Children ride them to school for a few minutes at the beginning and end of every school day. However, when collectively grouped together, gas powered school buses have a profoundly negative impact on the environment and on the health of children. 

On average, an American child will spend twenty minutes per day on a diesel school bus.

There are more than 480,000 diesel powered school buses that are in regular use. In total, the waste from school buses adds up to more than five million tons of carbon emissions.

Students, parents, local leaders, and state leaders from across the country have found a viable solution to the school bus emissions problem: electric school buses. 

Along with the benefits to the environment, these advocates note that electric school buses offer many additional benefits. The electric buses will keep children healthier, provide needed support for battery storage infrastructure, and save school districts money over time. 

On October 25, 2022, three leaders, Connecticut State Senator Will Haskell, East Hartford’s Board of Education Chairman Tyron Harris, and Albany County Legislator William Reinhardt, joined Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) for a press conference on electric school buses. The discussion was moderated by EOPA co-founder Alex Cornell du Houx. 

Diesel powered school buses have harmful impacts on students’ health—

Chairman Harris said that the primary reason why he supports transitioning to electric school buses is because, “they will improve our students’ health outcomes and ability to learn.”

Diesel powered buses emit benzene which is classified as a carcinogen. Harris listed the specific effects. “In the short term, it causes coughing and headaches. In the long term, it can hamper lung development and heart health,” he explained.

His fellow Connecticuter, state senator Haskell, supported Harris’s reasoning. To illustrate the argument, Haskell asked the public to remember the feeling of being behind a running school bus outside. The smells and the fumes of gas powered school buses are palpable.

Haskell hammered home his point. “The pollution inside the school bus exceeds the pollution outside of it by five to ten times,” he said. “Diesel is bad for everyone, but it is especially harmful for children.”

By transitioning to electric school buses, millions of students would no longer be regularly exposed to toxins from diesel. 

Electric school buses could significantly improve renewable energy infrastructure—

Before he worked as an elected official, county legislator Reinhardt worked at the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency for more than two decades. His career in the energy industry gives Reinhardt special insight into why electric school buses are so important. He believes that, “the time for the electric bus has come.”

Electric buses are powered by batteries, which are vital for the efficient use of renewable energy sources. When a wind farm or a solar farm is in use, some of that energy can be used immediately. The excess energy is then stored in a battery

Batteries in electric vehicles will be critical to the efficiency of the renewable energy grid.

“Think of a battery as a two way energy device; it can consume energy to move kids around or it can put power back into the grid to address when demand for energy is very high,” said Reinhardt. The energy stored in batteries is used when wind farms and solar farms are not generating enough power. 

Reinhardt helped explain further how electric buses can help support the efficiency of solar and wind energy. “There are times when the renewable grid does not need all the power that is being generated. Our renewable energy future is reliant on having robust batteries for when the wind blows or sun shines,” he said. 

He drew attention to the urgency behind this issue. “We really have to ramp up our battery storage. The batteries will help us reach this optimal harvesting of all renewable energy,” continued Reinhardt. “Batteries in electric school buses actually can be part of the solution.”

Electric schools buses could be a great boost to local economies— 

Right now, the sticker price for a new electric bus on average is around $350,000 dollars. Often, this number is enough to deter administrators from even considering buying an electric bus for their school district. 

Reinhardt feels confident that the price will go down precipitously if enough people show interest in the product now. “When we talk about new technology, the most expensive phase is the very beginning,” he announced.

The Biden Harris administration started the Clean School Bus Program to alleviate electric bus prices.

His explanation followed basic economic principles. “As we scale up production of electric buses and as we scale up battery production, the cost per unit will go way down, way down,” Reinhardt said. “It’s much more economical than most people realize.”

EOPA Co-founder Alex Cornell du Houx agreed with Reinhardt’s logic. “Battery costs have already reduced by 85 percent and are continuing to go down.” 

Lithium-ion batteries, a key component of the renewable energy grid, have rapidly declined in price over the past decade because of increasing production. 

There are more reasons why the price of electric bus prices could continue to go down. First, utility providers have good reason to subsidize costs for electric vehicles. Reinhardt believes that utility providers working with school districts will “not only sell more electricity, but will also better manage their system.”

Second, the federal government is providing up to $5 billion of rebates for school districts interested in purchasing electric buses. State Senator Haskell feels these rebates should motivate elected leaders to transition towards electric buses. 

“Because the federal government is spending more than ever before, state and local governments also need to spend more than they have historically in order to qualify for the competitive grants,” he said. 

Haskell continued, “a lot of my colleagues and constituents think that because we are so fortunate to be living in this exciting time for infrastructure, it means we can take a step back. I believe it’s exactly the inverse; we have to lean in more than ever before.”

Haskell closed his remarks with an affirmative look forward, “I know on this problem, we will be able to get something done.”