It’s Electric! Or, It might be

by Carolina Nunez-

School bus stopping to pick up elementary students. Picture taken on March 23, 2023 by Carolina Nunez in Blacksburg Virginia

Many schools in Virginia have been granted the opportunity to have electric buses in their communities in April and September of 2022 as a part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Electric School Bus Rebates and the annual 2021 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) School Bus Rebates. Some of these areas include Newport News, Loudoun County, Culpeper County, Petersburg City, and Carroll County public schools. Each of these zones were granted upwards of $100,000, the highest fund awarded being $900,000, going towards acquiring electric school buses according to WXFR with New River Valley news

 When it comes to Blacksburg public schools,  Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith states that “[Blacksburg] will hopefully have about half our fleet in electric buses.” What exactly does this mean for schools in the New River Valley?  

Dr. Bernard Bragen, superintendent for Montgomery County Public Schools, said, “In the Montgomery County Public Schools, as of right now, we have 4 electric school buses.”

“It all comes down to economics. If the state of Virginia incentivizes the buses where the costs are the same in gas- we would do it in a heartbeat,” Bragen continued.

Montgomery County Public School Administration office entrance. Picture taken on March 24, 2023 by Carolina Nunez in Christiansburg, Virginia

Bragen explained that electric school buses are not cheap in price. The 2021 American Rescue Plan Electric School Bus Rebates had planned to offer approximately $10 million to public and private fleet owners for the replacement of old diesel school buses with new buses certified to EPA’s cleanest emission standards. This plan mostly applied to schools in more “densely populated areas” because these are the areas that are developing a more “clean” environment. 

The idea to replace regular school buses with newer electric ones has been circulating throughout the nation. But why is it necessary? Dominion Energy reports that replacing one diesel bus can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54,000 pounds each year. This means the air quality inside a diesel bus is 5x worse than outside the bus. Replacing a diesel bus with an electric bus improves air quality for students inside the bus and for the communities outside of them. 

Diesel powered school buses produce more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. According to the NYBCA, There are more than 480,000 yellow school buses across the United States that transport an estimated 26 million students to and from school. This alone saves close to 2.3 billion gallons of fuel and saves families more than $7.3 billion in fuel costs each year. This is great for our economy, but terrible for the environment and the children who are constantly being exposed to their buses exhaust fumes. 

Despite the benefits of having an electric school bus, it is not so easy to acclimate them to certain areas. Bragen explained that, “The issue with the electric buses is that some things like temperature matter. Typically you would be able to get 200 miles with one charge on a bus, which would normally be okay, but the temperature we experience affects that rate.”  Because the New River Valley does experience temperatures that vary from cold to warm in one day, this is an issue worth considering before converting to electric buses. 

With school buses being one of the most common vehicles on the road, the carbon footprint they leave behind has a big impact on the air we breathe every day. The nation as a whole has slowly inched towards replacing the regular diesel powered buses with the more efficient electrical school buses, but the question remains of whether the New River Valley will be a part of this change.