With school buildings in most U.S. communities, it’s no surprise that school systems are well-positioned to take a leadership role in distributed generation resources, among various clean energy solutions.
More than 50 school system leaders representing 16 U.S. states joined policy makers in Washington, D.C. this week at the first-ever Clean Energy Schools Symposium.
Organized by non-profit group Generation180, the event brought together members of the organizer’s School Leadership in Clean Energy or SLICE network. Comprised of superintendents, facilities directors, transportation directors, and other education leaders, the SLICE members joined with newcomers and federal policy-makers to discuss clean energy benefits to school districts and their communities across the country.
According to a recent report from Generation180, nearly one in ten public schools have a solar installation. The decisionmakers invited to attend are in the top tier of the country leading the adoption of clean energy in the education sector, and this week they were awarded a scholarship for recognition as part of the SLICE network.
Symposium topics included zero emissions goals, solar-plus-storage microgrid incentivization, and federal funding opportunities for schools pursuing clean energy and energy efficiency upgrades.
“Saving money with solar energy has been a game-changer for our district by enabling us to raise pay and retain quality teachers,” said Dr. Michael Hester, superintendent of Batesville Public Schools in Arkansas.
Clean school buses
One entire day of the symposium focused on electric school buses, where participants discussed the electrification of U.S. bus fleets, and received advice and support for creating fleetwide bus plans at school systems, while learning about financial incentives for converting fleets.
In October 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the second distribution of $1 billion of awards from the $5 billion multi-year Clean School Bus Program to 391 rebate recipients. The federal clean bus incentivization program of the Environmental Protection Agency from April 2022 awards rebates to school systems that upgrade their school bus fleets from conventional to electric buses over the next five years. A first round of $500 million funding was awarded in May 2022.
The second round of Clean School Bus funding of $1 billion will support the purchase of more than 2,600 buses, of which 95% will be electric from more than 400 applicants, according to the federal government.
The federal program awards $285,000 or $375,000 per zero emissions mid-sized Class 3 to 6 or large-capacity Class 7 buses for qualifying school districts that meet one or more of the EPA’s criteria, without preference to any individual criteria:
- Lowest overall cost of bus replacement
- Local conditions, including length of bus routes and weather conditions
- Technologies that most reduce emissions;
- Whether funds will bring new technologies to scale, or promote cost parity between old technology and new technology, particularly for production in the U.S.
School districts that do not meet one or more of the EPA’s criteria are still eligible to receive $190,000 or $250,000 per Class 3 to 6 or Class 7+ vehicle. The program also awards $15,000 to $30,000 per vehicle funding for buses that switch from conventional fuel to compressed natural gas or propane-fueled vehicles.
As part of the initial funding round, the EPA announced that 22 New York state school districts will share from $69.2 million in federal funding for converting 184 buses to electric buses. In another large award, the South Carolina Department of Education announced a 160-electric school bus order earlier this week from Thomas Built Buses and Proterra.
“Given the disproportionate impact of poor air quality and climate change on low-income students and students of color, investments in clean technologies like renewables and electric school buses have a central role to play in advancing environmental justice in school communities,” said Sue Gander, director of the World Resources Institute’s school bus initiative, one of the event workshop sponsors.
The Clean Energy Schools Symposium received scholarship and event funding from freight and logistics company FedEx.
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