Electric School Bus Transition Can Supply Many Benefits, Study Indicates


Exelon, in partnership with CALSTART, EPRI, Clean Energy Works, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), has released a white paper examining how the electric school bus transition can deliver a wide range of environmental justice, health and other benefits to customers, communities and the electric grid.

In fact, replacing all diesel school buses in the United States with electric school buses would avoid approximately nine million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, the equivalent of removing two million cars from the road. Accelerating deployment represents a significant opportunity for stakeholders, and this report can serve as a guide for public utility commissions, policymakers and school bus operators to reduce common barriers to adoption and ensure an equitable transition.

With the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in effect, there is once-in-a-generation funding to electrify school buses nationwide. Included in this funding is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean School Bus Program, which will allocate a total of $5 billion over a five-year period to accelerate the replacement of diesel school buses with zero- to low-emission models.

Nine districts across Exelon’s service areas have been awarded over $40 million in funding to electrify more than 100 buses in the first round of funding. So far, the program has awarded $1 billion to 349 school bus operators in 2022, supporting the replacement of approximately 2,500 school buses.

The utility industry is well-positioned to take a leading role in facilitating and accelerating this market transformation and ensuring the benefits reach customers and communities in an equitable way. Exelon is committed to working with school bus operators, districts and other community stakeholders to provide recommendations on how to best leverage available resources to maximize benefits for residents of its service areas.

“School bus electrification has the potential to transform the energy grid by providing stability, capacity and emergency power when needed, but most importantly, this change will transform the lives of the students we serve as well,” says Sunny Elebua, Exelon’s chief strategy and sustainability officer. “At Exelon, we are committed to sustainable progress, particularly in communities where there are marked disparities such as air quality. We are proud of this study and the opportunity to address disparities and foster healthier communities.”

An estimated 25 million American children rely on school bus travel for safe transportation to and from school, accounting for billions of miles traveled each year. Efforts to reduce diesel exhaust from older diesel engines can offer health solutions and reduce harmful emissions — particularly in underresourced communities that are impacted the most. Almost 95% of school buses, which transport 55% of all students, run on diesel. On average, 60% of low-income students ride the bus daily, compared with 45% of students in other income brackets. Black students and children with disabilities also rely on diesel school buses more than others.

“School bus electrification must scale up quickly and comprehensively to ensure an equitable transition and equal access to zero-emission technologies if we want to both address climate change and also create opportunities for jobs in the zero-emission sector,” says Jared Schnader, senior director and bus initiative lead at CALSTART. “Zooming in on the critical role of electric utilities, as well as clarifying the interactions school districts and operators will need to have with their utilities, will enable this transformation to unfold swiftly and cost-efficiently.”

“Electric school buses provide many benefits to the utility as well as the community. But without carefully considering how to operationalize equity, these benefits run the risk of being unevenly distributed,” adds Margarita Parra, director of Transportation Decarbonization at Clean Energy Works. “Equity can serve as a pathway for utilities to be more efficient and effective in achieving their business and energy management goals, while addressing inequities and improving the quality of life for students, teachers, bus drivers and the local community.”

This whitepaper is designed to serve as a resource for elected officials, school administrators and community members seeking to bring the benefits of electric school buses to their communities. To learn more about the white paper, visit www.calstart.org/electric-school-bus-transition.

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