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Local School Buses Go Electric

(Update to blog originally published on June 24, 2016)

The long-awaited fleet of zero-emission school buses was unveiled at an event on May 12 at Martin Luther King Jr. Technology Academy. Local dignitaries speaking at the event to celebrate the arrival of the all-electric vehicles included Congresswoman Doris Matsui, California State Senator Richard Pan, California State Assembly Member Kevin McCarty, Rancho Cordova Mayor Donald Terry, and Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board, Richard Corey. “This is our leadership opportunity,” Matsui said. “If we can do this here, so can the rest of the nation.”

The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District (SMAQMD) was awarded $7.5 million in funding that now allows local school districts to offer their students the ultimate in clean rides to school on electric school buses. The $7.5 million was awarded from California Climate Investments (aka Cap-and-Trade funding) that goes toward greenhouse gas reduction programs and projects operated by multiple State agencies. One example is the California Air Resources Board program for Low Carbon Transportation and Fuels Investments. Through this program, the “Sacramento Zero-Emission School Bus Commercial Deployment Project” allowed for the purchase of 29 all-electric school buses as well as electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

The goals of the “electric school bus project” include reducing heavy-duty vehicle emissions as well as demonstrating (and accelerating) the acceptance of commercially available heavy-duty zero-emission technologies. Another important goal is benefiting children who attend schools in disadvantaged communities, or communities that suffer disproportionately from the health impacts of poor air quality.

Of the 29 zero emission buses purchased under the proposed project, the Elk Grove Unified School District received 10 school buses; the Sacramento City Unified School District received three buses; and the Twin Rivers Unified School District received 16 buses. The Twin Rivers district also plans to implement a loaner program that would allow other school districts to experiment with zero emission buses. The number of buses for each school district were based on the requests of each district.

At the May 2016 meeting of the SMAQMD Board of Directors, Tim Taylor, Land Use and Mobile Source Division Manager, presented a summary of the proposed project which included a request for authorization of $1.6 million in matching funds for the program. Taylor noted that the CARB was excited about the project as it “would be the largest program of its type” in the U.S.

Speaking in support of the proposal were the transportation directors from each of the three school districts. Jill Gayaldo, Transportation Director for the Elk Grove Unified School District, and President of Sacramento School Bus Consortium noted that her district operates “the largest school transportation fleet in Northern California.” The District is the 5th largest district in Northern California, according to Gayaldo, as well as the fastest growing. “The Elk Grove district embraced alternative fuels over 20 years ago and continues to adopt leading technology.” Gayaldo said.

The forward-thinking SMAQMD Board of Directors unanimously supported the proposal and looks forward to exploring opportunities for energy storage and other innovative projects made possible with electric vehicle technology. “It’s fantastic the air district is moving forward on this progress toward the goal of zero emissions vehicles,” commented Sacramento City Council Member Eric Guerra.

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Tammy Cronin is a Valley Vision Project Leader working in the clean air, broadband and clean economy portfolios.

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