Electric school buses: the money and infrastructure needed to charge them

Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 4:10 PM EDT
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TOWN OF PAMELIA, New York (WWNY) - When it comes to schools switching their buses to electric fleets, districts will have to have a place to plug them in. And it’s not your ordinary wall outlet.

That infrastructure just doesn’t exist right now, so bus garages will need renovations. Plus, because of our cold winters, what schools will need will cost more.

“We run about 6,000 school buses in the state of New York, so we have a long way to go to get those to electric,” said Kevin Matthews, the head of electrification for First Student.

Nearly 40 of those First Student school buses are parked along outer Bradley Street near Watertown.

The Watertown City School District and Immaculate Heart Central hire First Student to bus kids to and from school. The company is already adding electric buses to its fleet, getting ahead of the 2027 state mandate when any new bus purchase must go green.

“We have 250 in operation across North America at this point, and we’re adding about 10 to 15 per month into the fleet,” said Matthews.

First Student will invest millions of dollars in new buses.

Charging stations mean another investment because of the state mandate.

Matthews says because of the cold north country winters, First Student may need a faster, more expensive charger that works better with the climate.

“Schools don’t close when it’s cold. So we have to be able to run our buses on those cold days,” he said.

On average, charging infrastructure typically costs $25,000 to $40,000 per bus. Do the math and the investment for First Student could reach $1 million.

At Indian River, a school district with 100 buses, it’ll cost $2.5 million to charge up that fleet.

Some lawmakers in Albany are left shaking their heads. State Senator Dan Stec, who represents part of St. Lawrence County, is one of them.

“The idea that we’re going to treat the entire state busing system with a one-size-fits-all solution is irresponsible. It’s not feasible,” said Stec (R. - 45th District).

Stec, who has an engineering degree from Clarkson University, says there are too many holes in the state’s mandate for schools to go green.

“We don’t have the capacity, the generating capacity, or the electrical supply to achieve that, and we don’t have the wires and transmission systems that can carry that,” he said.

And when it comes to all school districts buying new buses and charging stations, where will the money come from?

“That’s you and me and everybody that’s watching this broadcast,” said Stec.

According to the state, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is developing a step-by-step roadmap and guidebook, which will provide schools with information of how to electrify their bus fleets.

The state is also investing $1 billion in zero emissions vehicles over the next five years, in support of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.