It’s electric: BC secures $1m for clean energy buses

The Bethlehem Central School District announced today that its application to the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program (NYTVIP) has been approved. This approval will provide up to $1,000,000 in state-allocated funds to aid the district’s purchase of five electric school buses for the 2021-22 school year.

Bethlehem is one of the first district-operated school bus fleets in New York State to be awarded the NYTVIP funding to help advance its clean energy goals for student transportation. The district received voter approval in May to begin a transition to zero-emission school buses on the condition it could secure the NYTVIP funds for its initial purchase. The district’s goal is to convert at least 50% of its school bus fleet from diesel to electric over the next 10 years.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) administers NYTVIP in partnership with the New York State Department of Transportation and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The $57.4 million NYTVIP program is funded by $47.4 million from the state’s federal allocation from the Volkswagen settlement, and approximately $10 million in federal funds allocated to the New York State Department of Transportation.

“We are thrilled to be able to share this news and, more importantly, introduce electric buses to our fleet,” said Superintendent Jody Monroe. “The district’s mission is rooted in four core values: academics, character, community and wellness. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to invest in the long-term wellness of not only students but the entire community with a transition to electric.

“We knew, however, that we couldn’t do it alone,” said Monroe. “This commitment of financial support from New York State is a pivotal moment for the Bethlehem community. It paves the way for safer, cleaner and quieter rides for children – one that comes with a much smaller carbon footprint and the opportunity to be at the forefront of the move to alternative energies.”

In May, Bethlehem was the first New York school district to seek approval from voters to begin a transition to electric vehicles. Voters approved a maximum of $1.475 million to purchase up to nine buses, including the five electric buses. Also approved as part of the bus proposition was $200,000 for necessary infrastructure, including charging stations, for the new electric school buses.

“When asked, the community responded overwhelmingly in favor of moving from diesel to electric buses with the caveat that the district would secure grant funding to lower the initial purchase costs,” said Board of Education President Holly Dellenbaugh. “District leaders and our transportation team worked tirelessly to secure the voucher, and they deserve a great deal of credit for making this happen. It is exciting to be part of this bold move forward with our environmental stewardship. This is a big win!”

NYTVIP will provide Bethlehem with $200,000 per vehicle. The program makes it easier for municipal fleets to adopt clean vehicle technologies while removing the oldest, dirtiest diesel engines from New York roads. Bethlehem will be removing nine older diesel buses, purchased in 2009, from its fleet. Under terms of the NYTVIP, five of the 2009 diesel vehicles cannot be sold or reused elsewhere. The buses will be scrapped, permanently removing them from service. 

Doreen M. Harris President and CEO of NYSERDA said, “We are proud to support the Bethlehem Central School District with this allocation under the New York State Truck Voucher Incentive Program that supports their purchase of five electric buses – the first to be added to their fleet. These buses create a healthier, more comfortable ride for students and contribute to a cleaner, greener community by lowering harmful carbon emissions and pollution.”

The school district will continue to seek additional funding opportunities to replace older diesel buses with new electric buses. As part of its bus replacement plan, the district annually identifies buses that have reached the end of their useful lives and adds those to a schedule for replacement. Buses are replaced when it becomes more cost-efficient to purchase new vehicles than maintain those buses that have been in use for many years.

“Our goal has always been to maintain a bus fleet in a cost-efficient manner, and we needed a plan to electrify the bus fleet over time in a way that is cost-neutral. The funding provides the springboard to do just that,” said Chief Business and Financial Officer Judith Kehoe, who worked with Student Transportation Director Karim Johnson on the voucher application. “We expect as time goes on that prices will come down and there will be even more incentives for electric vehicles. We see an electric bus fleet as an achievable goal, one that benefits everyone but especially the children we serve.”

The five new electric buses are expected to begin operating in Bethlehem during the upcoming 2021-22 school year.

“As it is for manufacturing everywhere, there is a lengthy timeline from order to delivery. However, we are very optimistic we will have these vehicles on the road sometime in the new school year,” said Director of Student Transportation Karim Johnson. “Electric buses are the future of school transportation. They will deliver all of the traditional safety features of our diesel buses but with the added benefits of a cleaner environment for students and the community as a whole.”