RICHMOND, Va. -- A greener commute could soon be in store for some students across Virginia.
Richmond-based Dominion Energy is now accepting applications from public school districts interested in receiving electric school buses in a program aimed to reduce carbon emissions, lower transportation costs and strengthen Dominion’s electric grid. The program’s goal is to replace the existing 13,000 diesel school buses with electric models by 2030.
Upfront costs are about $120,000 higher than a comparable diesel bus, according to a report filed in July with the House Select Committee. Dominion will pay the cost difference for electric buses as well as the cost of new charging stations and infrastructure for selected schools.
The bus batteries can be tapped as an energy source and provide grid stability in times of high energy needs. During a power outage or emergency, for example, the buses could serve as mobile power stations. Schools will be selected for the program based on the locational benefit of their local power grid.
According to Dominion, 1,050 buses would provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes.
The new buses operate much more quietly than the current fleet, which could help facilitate communication between drivers and students. Each bus also is equipped with a seat belt for every student.
“Customers will benefit from the battery technology and vehicle-to-grid technology built into the bus system, which will enhance reliability and support renewable energy development,” said Dominion spokesperson Samantha Moore.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said that the school district is “incredibly excited” about the possibility of the initiative coming to Richmond.
“We believe we’re the perfect school division to launch this initiative as we’ve already demonstrated a commitment to making RPS ‘greener,’” said Kamras.
Electric school buses would be another in a series of environmental initiatives for Richmond Public Schools. Solar panels installed in 10 schools are on track to be operative in late October and into November, and another recent initiative replaced styrofoam cafeteria trays with recyclable alternatives.
Air quality inside the buses is six times better than in non-electric models, according to Dominion, and one bus would reduce carbon emissions by 54,000 pounds each year. Dominion estimates that a switch to electric buses will reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by 60%.
“They have other benefits too you know, they clean the air, they’re quieter, they’re easier to maintain because they have fewer parts -- moving parts -- that need to be replaced than an internal combustion engine,” said Wendy Fewster, a LEED-certified RPS sustainability associate.
The initiative was praised by environmental advocacy organization Environment Virginia, who encouraged school districts to apply for the initiative.
“Dominion’s announcement is an important part of addressing climate change and protecting the health of thousands of school children across the commonwealth,” said Elly Boehmer, director of Environment Virginia.
Dominion aims to have 50 electric school buses fully operational by the end of 2020. The company also wants to grow the program by 200 buses per year for the next five years, pending state approval. The costs for the initial 50 buses will be covered by Dominion’s base rate, with full program implementation expecting to cost less than $1 per month for the average Dominion Energy customer.
Applications for the program close Oct. 5.
Capital News Service is a program of University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.