Calif. School Districts Take Advantage of Alt-Fuel Funding

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Twin Rivers Unified School District
Local Sacramento-area student transporters had the opportunity to ride and drive the new Blue Bird All American electric school bus on Jan. 16 as part of an information-sharing seminar on alternative fuel funding and an upcoming group purchasing RFP led by Twin Rivers Unified.

As California churns the water with hundreds of millions of dollars in alternative fuel funds, a Sacramento school district will soon announce an RFP for electric and low-NOx school buses. It will also allow other area school districts to piggyback for increased group purchasing power.

Tim Shannon, director of transportation for Twin Rivers Unified School District, shared information on the bid with eight local school districts during an alternative fuels informational event on Jan. 16 that included state agency representatives from the California Air Resources Board, OEMs and dealers, and a ride and drive for Blue Bird’s new All American Electric transit-style school bus.

He told STN that seven districts agreed to participate on RFP, while an eighth plans to join the group next year. It is expected to be released in the next couple of weeks.

Shannon added that Twin Rivers is eager to use the bid to provide more alt-fuel options to the area, especially as Blue Bird’s full line of new electric buses is expected later this year and both IC Bus and Thomas Built Buses aim to join the ZEV market next year.

Currently, Twin Rivers operates eight eLion school buses from Lion Electric Company in Quebec. It also has four Trans Tech eSeries Type A school buses that are awaiting CHP inspection before they are road ready. Shannon said another four eSeries will be delivered soon. All 16 buses were made possible via an electric grant last year that also benefited nearby Elk Grove Unified and Sacramento City Unified. It was the largest electric school bus grant to date.

Funding for school buses is only increasing. CARB added over $140 million to a state program that reduces the initial purchase cost of zero- and low-emission vehicles. The Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project, or HVIP, accounts for over $133 million of the new funds. An additional $7.5 million is also set aside for low-NOx vouchers.

The program allows eligible vehicle manufacturers to offer customer discounts at the point of sale. The intent is to cover the incremental cost of purchasing the new vehicle.

A CARB spokeswoman explained that the $133 million in vouchers is the remaining amount from an original $188 million allocated last year, after backfilling the waiting list and paying processing and administration fees. She added that $35 million is also designated for buses but includes transit as well as school buses.

School districts in disadvantaged communities receive vouchers of $235,000 per bus, while other school districts receive vouchers of $220,000 per bus. Fifteen school bus vouchers had been issued as of June for a total of $477,350.

The majority of the money comes from state’s cap-and-trade auction proceeds, the state’s Air Quality Improvement Program, and the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund. School buses are expected to receive a big piece of the latter.

ADOMANI, Inc., which along with Efficient Drivetrains, Inc. developed the all-electric system for the Blue Bird All American and Vision Electric, and Lion Electric Co. are among the companies that have already delivered vouchers to customers. ADOMANI is based in California, a state which is also an option for a new Lion Electric plant.

Another $10 million is available through the state’s Rural School Bus Pilot Project, which aims to replace older, high emissions school buses with lower carbon options. The project already has $15 million earmarked for rural school district bus replacements. A CARB spokeswoman added that the project solicitation phase for the new $10 million is expected to be announced later this year.

Meanwhile, the California Energy Commission holds its first public workshop on Feb. 14 to discuss awarding the remaining $75 million in Proposition 39 funds, which voters approved in 2012 to change corporate income taxes and transfer $550 million each year for five years from the state’s General Fund to the Clean Energy Job Creation Fund. Per state law, the first $75 million of $550 million allocated annually since the 2013-2014 fiscal year is earmarked for school districts and counties for bus retrofits and replacements.