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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021 9 months ago

District will replace 12 diesel buses with electric models

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The buses will be funded in large part by a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

As the Sarasota school district continues to look for sustainability opportunities inside its schools, a new effort will soon be seen rolling down the street.

With a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on the horizon, the district will soon add 12 electric buses to its fleet.

The FDEP has more than $57 million to dole out from a settlement with Volkswagen following a lawsuit filed to resolve claims the automaker violated the Clean Air Act by selling diesel vehicles that violated emission standards.

Now the FDEP will distribute funds for school districts to replace diesel Type C or Type D school buses from 2009 or older with new electric-battery powered Type C or Type D buses.

Only districts within Air Quality Priority Areas are eligible for the funds. There are 23 such counties in Florida, including Sarasota, Manatee, Pinellas and Hillsborough.

“This isn’t something that has been included in the past, but we’d certainly like to weave sustainability as a goal throughout the district,” Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas said. “This is a great first step.”

Each district is required to cover at least 25% of the bus cost as part of the grant. The average cost of an electric school bus is $360,000 compared to $110,000 for a diesel bus. This means the district will have an upfront cost of about $1.08 million for 12 buses while FDEP will pay $3.24 million.

Although school board members said they were excited to begin sustainability efforts, some were hesitant of the cost difference between an electric and a diesel bus.

“The cost difference is amazing — it’s three times as much,” Chair Shirley Brown said. “I would hope that in the future these costs will come down because we’re looking to go all electric within 10 years.”

Director of Transportation Jason Harris said the district applied for 12 buses to begin its program and determine whether it will be financially feasible to work toward an all-electric fleet. Aside from the buses, the district also will need to supply 12 charging stations, which cost $17,000 each but will be supplied for free by Florida Power and Light.

Harris said on one charge, the buses can travel anywhere from 100-135 miles depending on outside factors, such as air conditioning and start and stops. The buses take three hours to charge.

“A school bus route can be operated in the a.m., they can charge during their layover and then be operational for the afternoon,” Harris said.

If it proves financially feasible for the district, it will continue to replace up to 74 eligible diesel buses with electric buses.

Board member Jane Goodwin said she purchased a hybrid car this year that gets “great gas mileage,” and she hopes the district’s fleet will soon experience similar sustainable benefits.

“I think it is the way of the future, and I think the sooner we look at and evaluate some of these options as we go down the road, I think there will be more and more opportunities and cheaper costs,” Goodwin said.

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