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Yellow school bus: From energy consumer to energy asset

A line of yellow school buses parked on the street
ungvar - stock.adobe.com
A line of yellow school buses parked on the street

What started as a school project for students in one Illinois district has led to the successful changeover to more energy efficient school buses.

The path to zero-emission buses began in 2014, when STEM students at Williamsfield High School started a science project for a solar-powered microgrid on their rural campus. And last year, the transportation transition began when the new standard 'C-72' school buses were ordered. Six of the eight buses have arrived this month.

Tim Farquer, superintendent of Williamsfield Schools and administrative lead for the bus initiative, said the key is the buses' ability to use the solar power.

"And now our buses are, in theory, fueling with energy produced here on site. And not only giving kids clean air on the buses and lowering our emissions - not just due to switching out of internal combustion engines for an electric motor - but getting our electricity for those motors from the sun," he said.

Farquer added they've received inquiries about the project from some Peoria schools. The district received an additional $13 million Department of Energy grant to work with 16 other area school districts to include an electric bus and a vehicle-to-grid charger as part of a campus microgrid.

The Illinois General Assembly amended legislation in March to require that all new school buses, purchased or leased, be electric by 2028. They must operate in equity investment-eligible communities by 2030, and all school buses operating statewide must be electric by 2035. Farquer sees these requirements as a win-win for the environment and the school districts.

"The funding source for this transition has been part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that funded the Clean School Bus program, and has resulted in direct-pay incentives for school districts to electrify commercial vehicles and add charging infrastructure to their site," he continued.

The EPA's Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion over five years to replace bus fleets with zero-emission and low-emission models. Farquer added school buses are perfectly poised to be an energy storage solution, because their trips are predictable.

Launched in 2008, the Illinois News Connection (INC) is part of a network of independent public interest state-based news services pioneered by Public News Service. Our mission is an informed and engaged citizenry making educated decisions in service to democracy; and our role is to inform, inspire, excite and sometimes reassure people in a constantly changing environment through reporting spans political, geographic and technical divides.

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