Ridgefield environment task force pushes schools to switch to electric buses

First day of school at Farmingville Elementary School, Ridgefield, Conn. Monday morning, August 29, 2022.

First day of school at Farmingville Elementary School, Ridgefield, Conn. Monday morning, August 29, 2022.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

RIDGEFIELD — The public schools are considering switching their gas- and diesel-fueled buses and mini vans to an all-electric fleet, and the prospect of federal rebates could sweeten the deal. 

A presentation on electric school buses was given at the Oct. 24 education board meeting, led by Vincent Giordano. Giordano is a volunteer with the town's energy task force, which promotes resource conservation, energy efficiency, and explores the means to reduce the carbon footprint of the community.  

Jason Raposa, regional business manager for Highland Electric Fleets in Mass., said Highland works with school districts and school bus contractors to introduce electric school buses, with over 375 buses currently under contract. 

"We work with our customers right from the start, to design and implement the entire project from start to finish," he said. "We procure the school buses and the infrastructure in the chargers, building out the infrastructure, working with local construction firms, local design firms in the local utilities to do all the depot upgrades. We also work in conjunction with our manufacturers and the dealers to train drivers, train mechanics, work on the buses in training, and educate first responders as well."

Current technology for all the major manufacturers get a range of about 100 to 150 miles on a full charge, but that could be reduced by 10 to 15 percent if it's "really, really cold" or the buses drive on "really hilly terrain," Raposa said

"We are finding the buses are doing much better than this," he said. 

Clean Air Act

The incentive to transition to electric school buses was inspired by the Clean Air Act, a new state requirement that aims to further efforts to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and shift toward more environmentally friendly transportation alternatives.

The Clean Air Act was first approved by the state General Assembly in April and became Public Act 22-25. Under the Clean Air Act, the state Department of Transportation will shift hundreds of buses to electric vehicles. In addition to the electric state-run buses, public school buses will also shift to electric models. The Clean Air Act will also prohibit the procurement of diesel-powered buses after 2023.

During the presentation, Giordano also spoke of the Environmental Protection Agency Clean School Bus Program, which provides $5 billion over the next five years to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models. EPA solicited applications for $500 million through the 2022 Clean School Bus Rebates for zero-emission and low-emission school bus rebates as the first funding opportunity.

In Connecticut, four school districts — Cornwall, Sharon, Region 1 and the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System — earned the rebates, according to the EPA. While Ridgefield is not on the list, there's money available for the next four years through the program, he said.

"There's still $4 billion on the table," he said. "This is an opportunity that we should be thinking about as a town as to how we could possibly utilize some of that $4 billion to meet for upcoming commitments in 2030 and 2035."

He said it's important to start thinking about how the district will begin to move toward zero emission or electrification. 

"Time is our friend at the moment and we could learn a lot from watching first movers and speaking with experts in the field," Giordano said in an email. "At this time, I think it is prudent for the BOE to greenlight an option selection process to investigate how best to transition the Ridgefield fleet to ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) — especially, since the federal government has initiated a $5 billion grant program to transition school bus fleets and infrastructure."  

"Once we have a plan of action, Ridgefield may wish to consider applying for funds to begin its own transition," he added.