WALLINGFORD — The school district wants to obtain an electric school bus through a state grant that’s funded with settlement money from the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Two Board of Education members, Republican Autumn Allinson and Democrat Patrick Reynolds, attended an initial meeting last week of a new BOE committee on electric vehicles.
Also present were school district officials and representatives from National Express, the parent company of Durham School Services which provides transportation services the school district.
The goal was to establish a steering committee for “building a zero-emission vehicle conversion plan,” according to presentation documents.
Walter Watson, vice president of procurement at National Express, said that several school bus suppliers are venturing into electric vehicles, including Thomas Built Buses and Blue Bird Corp.
“We think this is going to help (with) price,” Watson said. “We do have a good feel for price, and of course we can’t talk about that publicly, but when we look at big bus recommendations we’re really looking at what kind of support is going to be provided,” such as training.
He said that Durham has as many 17 vehicles that potentially qualify for the grant, which requires that the 2009 or older working diesel bus models be replaced “like for like,” meaning a diesel bus must be replaced by an electric bus.
“We want to get these dirty diesels off the road,” Watson said. “They’re the prime targets, and because Wallingford is in an environmental justice community, it would quality for VW mitigation support.”
Watson said that along with the electric vehicle itself, infrastructure would need to be set up, including charging stations and piping in the ground, along with a plan to avoid charging at peak times during the day.
He recommended an AC charging operation to keep the purchase cost neutral.
“It’s the simplest way to operate,” he said. “It cuts out a lot of the cost. Unfortunately, that cost is still considerable ... for the platform to manage the battery, so we will need to pursue grants for the vehicle purchase price as well as the infrastructure.”
In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found Volkswagen had violated the federal Clean Air Act after the German auto manufacturer had programmed a “defeat device” in millions of diesel vehicles — including more than half a million in the U.S. Software utilized the vehicle’s emission controls only during emissions tests, while spewing up to 40 times more nitrogen oxide pollution in real world driving.
The civil enforcement case against Volkswagen resulted in a mitigation trust fund being set up for states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, as well as another one for federally recognized Native American tribes, according to the EPA.
Funds were allocated based on the number of affected Volkswagen vehicles registered in the state or territory. Connecticut’s allocation, more than $55.7 million, is slated for nitrogen oxide mitigation projects, including diesel school bus replacement, to be administered by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
In the first round of allocations in 2018, DEEP awarded $12.18 million and in the second round in 2019, DEEP awarded $6.25 million. Both allocations funded the replacement of diesel vehicles with cleaner alternatives by government and businesses.
The third round of funding is currently under consideration by DEEP.