Federal funds heading to Amherst, Holyoke for purchase of more than two dozen electric school buses

The Inflation Reduction Act promotes clean transportation to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Blue Bird is the only U.S.-owned and operated school bus manufacturer in the United States. The company builds a full range of electric, zero-emission school buses.

The Inflation Reduction Act promotes clean transportation to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Blue Bird is the only U.S.-owned and operated school bus manufacturer in the United States. The company builds a full range of electric, zero-emission school buses. business wire

By Alexa Lewis

Staff Writer

Published: 06-13-2024 8:03 PM

School districts in Amherst and Holyoke are well on their way to transporting students to and from school in buses that run entirely on clean energy.

The two districts were among 17 in Massachusetts to secure portions of $42 million in federal funding late last month to replace school buses that run on fossil fuels with electric vehicles, reducing harmful emissions and combating climate change.

Holyoke is getting a little more than $7.2 million and Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools will receive $600,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus program.

Holyoke officials said this money, combined with another grant received earlier this year, is equivalent to the cost of 26 new electric buses, or converting its entire fleet to electric. The exact number of full-size buses that Holyoke will purchase is to be determined, but they are expected to begin being delivered to the district during the 2025-2026 school year.

Amherst regional schools plans to use its new funding to buy three new electric buses valued at $200,000 each. The district is currently negotiating a lease agreement with Highland Electric Fleets, the transportation company that applied for the grant on the district’s behalf. The district also has one electric bus on order through another EPA program called the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which was awarded in 2022.

Highland Electric Fleets is a company dedicated to the electrification of fleets. They manage the electrification process for clients, procuring and implementing the necessary infrastructure over long-term contract periods, usually of 10 to 15 years.

According to Rupert Roy-Clark, Amherst-Pelham’s director of facilities, it will likely be another two years before the electric buses are implemented because the district needs “time to design, purchase, and install charging infrastructure.” The district aims to complete this process and use the new buses by the 2026 or 2027 school year.

“We’re not looking to be 100% electric for the next five to 10 years,” said Roy-Clark. This is because there is not yet “enough high-speed charging infrastructure across the state,” which he said is “logistically challenging,” and offers buses only a “limited range.”

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“A lot of the kids are very excited about the electric buses. I think there’s a lot of support for this move in the student body and the community,” said Roy-Clark. “There are lots of hurdles to reducing our carbon footprint… this is one step.”

Meanwhile, Holyoke Public Schools will use its award to purchase up to 21 new electric school buses through a partnership with Highland Electric Fleets and the district’s ongoing transportation contractor, Durham School Services.

These buses are in addition to five others that the district is buying, also through Highland, thanks to a separate $850,000 grant from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center ACT School Bus Fleet Deployment Program.

“These two grant awards, along with other secured funding, will provide sufficient funding to replace all 26 full-size school buses in the fleet used by Durham School Services to transport Holyoke students to and from school each day,” the district said in a statement.

The EPA’s Clean School Bus program hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the environment as well as the harmful emissions inhaled by students and staff. In Massachusetts, the federal money will help districts buy 166 electric school buses while retiring buses that run on fossil fuels.

“Every Massachusetts student deserves to breathe clean air, but diesel school buses are a major source of pollution and can be harmful to young people’s health,” said Gov. Maura Healey, noting that the state is grateful to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the state’s congressional delegation for their partnership and leadership in securing the funding.

Warren said in a statement that “These new electric school buses from the Biden administration are bright yellow symbols of how Massachusetts is fighting climate change. I wrote a bill to invest in cleaner transit options and fought for federal funding in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and now these electric school buses will help Massachusetts students breathe cleaner air.”

The funding will continue to help electric school bus adoption in the United States. The World Resources Institute, which runs an Electric School Bus Initiative, estimates the latest round of money will add about 3,100 new electric school buses to fleets nationwide.

According to its latest data, as of June 2023, there were 5,982 committed electric school buses either in operation, delivered or on order— 3,200 more buses than from June 2022.

“It’s no surprise that districts are lining up for electric school buses,” said Sue Gander, director of WRI’s Electric School Bus Initiative. “They offer the greatest air quality and climate benefits of all school bus types, alongside lower operating costs.” Gander said the recent round of federal funding will mean significant savings on transporattion budgets thanks to reduced fuel and maintenance costs.

“Potentially up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings per electric school bus,” she said. “That’s money we can invest back into classrooms.”

Alexa Lewis can be reached at alewis@gazettenet.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @alexamlewis.