Senator Millett, Representative Kornfield, and other members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, my name is Sue Ely and I live in Yarmouth and work here in Augusta. I am the Climate and Clean Energy Staff Attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), testifying on behalf of our more than 25,000 members and supporters. NRCM strongly supports this bill as part of a long-term transition toward clean transportation, to protect our climate and improve air quality, as well as containing energy costs and therefore taxpayer expense.
Electric school buses are significantly healthier for our children than traditional diesel school buses and can save money for taxpayers. Even without the benefits of reducing fossil fuel dependence and carbon emissions, it would be irresponsible not to move forward to increase their use for the health and safety of school children. The federal government says diesel exhaust likely causes lung cancer, asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease. Yet children across Maine ride school buses powered by diesel fuel — and stand in lines next to idling buses – nearly every day for months. Electric school buses are widely available, protect our children from harmful diesel emissions, reduce carbon pollution, and can save communities money through reduced fuel and maintenance costs.
Electric school bus basics
Electric school buses are already a realistic option for many school districts, and the number of models and their capabilities are increasing rapidly. They are significantly healthier than traditional diesel buses, with zero engine noise and zero tailpipe emissions. They are cheaper to operate and maintain. Beyond fuel savings, there are no oil or belt changes, no transmission systems, less brake and tire wear (due to regenerative breaking), etc. They are safe and must meet the same safety standards as traditional buses.
There are several different options from electric school bus manufacturers, including multiple options for Type A, Type C, and Type D buses, with more and more becoming available. Electric vehicles are a good fit for operation as school buses because there is a long opportunity to recharge buses overnight and in between routes. Range is much less of an issue, as well.
The upfront costs are higher than diesel school buses, but he costs of all electric vehicles, including school buses, are coming down, ranges are increasing, and school districts across the country are seeing significant annual savings on fuel and maintenance costs compared to diesel school buses. Electric school buses will probably still have a slightly higher sticker price than diesel for many years—but for many medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, the cost of the vehicle is only 25-35% of the total cost of operating that vehicle over its lifetime. To be fiscally responsible, policy makers need to pay closer attention to total cost and not let cheaper upfront costs burden taxpayers with higher ongoing costs.
States are investing in electric school buses
States all over the country are investing in electric school buses. Initial pilots have shown that the electric buses work, are safe, and can help school districts save money over the life of the bus while dramatically reducing carbon and other pollution that is harmful to children. Electric bus sales are growing rapidly and today are deployed in at least CA, CO, CT, IL, MI, MN, NJ, NY, VA, and VT. (Note those are generally states with cold climates.) They currently comprise 3% of national school bus sales, having overtaken buses fueled by compressed natural gas.
Attached to my testimony are some bullet points on recent electric school bus initiatives elsewhere. Of note, the utility for most of Virginia recently announced its plan to replace all of the diesel school buses in its territory with electric school buses by 2030, a much larger and more rapid transition than proposed by this bill.
Addressing carbon emissions and air quality
A report released just days ago by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection found that carbon pollution from the transportation sector remains the largest source by far. Transportation results in 54% of carbon emissions in Maine, up from 44% in 1990. (The next largest source is residential buildings, at 19%.) As the report states, transportation is the only sector—unlike power plants, industry, or buildings—where emissions have increased.
It is crystal clear that Maine cannot achieve the emission commitments passed by this Legislature without comprehensive action to reduce pollution from transportation. Fortunately advances in cleaner vehicles are rapidly creating opportunities to do that, not only from passenger vehicles, but for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.
The report recommends that:
Maine should consider initiatives to reduce emissions from this sector with strategies such as reducing vehicle miles traveled and increasing electric vehicle purchases, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, public transportation and ride sharing.
Electric school buses charging in Maine can reduce carbon emission by 70% compared to diesel buses.
Maine has committed to electric vehicles, including medium- and heavy-duty
In December Governor Mills joined seven other states in announcing a cooperative effort to put hundreds of thousands of zero-emission electric medium- and heavy-duty vehicles on the road. They stated:
Electrification of trucks and buses is essential to improve air quality and achieve the reductions in carbon pollution needed to meet state science-based greenhouse gas reduction goals and avoid the worst impacts of climate change… Exciting new technology developments in the medium- and heavy-duty sector are making zero emission public transit and school buses commercially viable, as well as in a growing number of other applications such as delivery vans and garbage and utility service vehicles.
Maine is also moving forward with increases in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, under the leadership of Efficiency Maine. In the coming year, Efficiency Maine will be increasing its focus on conversion of light-duty vehicles fleets, including government fleets (especially those that operate from central locations), and the charging stations necessary to support them. This legislation, with its focus on the largest government-owned fleet of vehicles, is an excellent complement.
At the end of the day, this comes down to school children. They are among the most vulnerable to unhealthy air and the toxic pollutants from diesel buses, and their future depends on significant efforts now to cut carbon pollution. Their parents and other taxpayers cannot afford continued dependence on outdated, expensive, and polluting transportation models.
This legislation is exactly the kind of approach we need to make long-term transitions to adopt rapidly evolving clean technology. It establishes a clear long-term commitment, directs the development of a plan or rules to get there, and requires the use of small initial steps to begin the process and learn early lessons. The transition to clean, efficient electric vehicles requires steadily increasing efforts over years. By taking these early steps and setting a manageable long-term course, we can avoid an expensive mad scramble in the future.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to provide this testimony in support of LD 1894 and we urge its passage.
Examples of recent electric school bus initiatives in other states
- Virginia: Dominion Energy in Virginia has begun a three-phase program to convert all of the diesel school buses in its Virginia service territory to electric buses by 2030. Program goals are 1) reduce emissions, 2) cost savings to school districts, and 3) vehicle-to-grid technology enhancements.
- Phase 1: 50 Thomas Built Buses w/in Dominion Energy’s Virginia service territory by end of 2020. Buses will have range of 134 miles and will be able to charge in 3 hours with Proterra 60 kW DC fst-charging system. Can supply power back to grid.
- Phase 2: 1,000 buses by 2025
- Phase 3: 100% replacement by 2030
- Illinois: 3 buses for school district from Motiv Power Systems/Creative Bus Sales/Starcraft Bus. VW funds and electric utility will help with costs. (Combined with solar array for power.)
- New York: 4 new Blue Bird buses (Blue Bird also sold buses to CA, CO, & NJ in 2019)
- Travels 120 miles per charge. Cost to operate electric buses = $0.17/mile compared to $0.75/mile for diesel model.
- Vermont: Electric buses in 3 school districts (not purchased yet, pilot ongoing)
- Minnesota: Successful electric bus pilot: Despite higher upfront costs, operation & maintenance savings of $12,000 per year
- Michigan: Deploying 17 buses in 7 districts
 “Eighth Biennial Report on Progress toward Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goals.” Maine Department of Environmental Protection. January 13, 2020. p.14.
 “States commit to Faster Transition to Zero Emission Trucks and Buses.” Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management. December 12, 2019.