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Report touts financial bonus of electric school buses Groups say districts can defray costs by selling electricity back to the power grid.

Larry Higgs - For The Star-Ledger  


    School districts could get an extra benefit from using electric school buses — selling unused battery power to electric power grids while the vehicles are parked, which could boost supply during high demand or power outages and be a revenue earner for school districts, according to a report commissioned by three environmental groups.

    The concept and technology, called “vehicle-to-grid,” has been tested experimentally in some school districts in other states and could defray the high purchase price of electric buses, the report by Environment New Jersey, the Public Interest Research Group and the Frontier Group says. It was released and discussed by a panel during a press conference Thursday.

    Electric school bus advocates are awaiting a vote on a New Jersey bill that would provide $45 million in state funding for school districts to buy electric school buses and charging equipment. The Assembly Appropriations Committee passed the legislation with a 7-4 vote Thursday. A companion bill has been proposed in the state Senate.

    One of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Sterley Stanley, D-Middlesex, said it would allow for an in-state pilot program for districts to try out electric buses.

    Hooking up the idle buses to the power grid to act as batteries is already being done in Norway, Stanley said. The report said school districts in California, Virginia and Massachusetts also are experimenting with vehicle-to-grid technology.

    How does it work? Parked buses are connected to the power grid, and could be tapped by electric suppliers when demand rises, said Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey’s executive director.

    Replacing every school bus currently in operation in the United States with a vehicle-to-grid-capable electric bus of the same type would create enough energy to power more than 200,000 average American homes for a week, the report said.

    In the case of power outages due to extreme weather, buses could be driven to hospitals or other emergency facilities and provide on-site power, the report said.

    School buses generally would recharge using “smart” charging systems that charge the buses when demand is low. That would require installation of a charging station that can deliver energy back to the power grid, said Bill Beren, Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter transportation chairman.

    The report also said school buses are the best choice for vehicle-to-grid because they don’t run as often as transit buses. And because school buses operate for an average of only four to five hours a day, and are mostly idle on weekends and school holidays, they are a potential source of large volumes of electricity at the times when the grid is at its most vulnerable and solar panels are in the dark, the report said.

    Vehicle-to-grid and electric school bus technology could bring overdue relief to Black and brown communities, currently overburdened with pollution from power plants, diesel trucks, buses and trains.

    A change to electric buses will especially help children, said Dr. Robert Laumbach, an associate professor at Rutgers University’s School of Public Health. Rutgers did a study on the effects of traffic-related air pollution and black carbon by having children from non-smoking households wear monitors in Newark and Elizabeth.

    “We saw an association with higher levels of black carbon and inflammation of the lungs,” Laumbach said.


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