BAR HARBOR — Mount Desert Island High School has been awarded $280,000 from the Volkswagen emissions fraud settlement to replace an old diesel-powered bus with a new electric one.
Electric buses cost about $350,000, so the high school will have to pay $70,000. But that is $25,000 less than the amount in next year’s budget for a new diesel bus, which the school will no longer need.
A couple of years ago, someone asked MDI High bus driver Doug Van Gorder if the school had considered using electric buses.
“I never even knew there was such a beast,” he recalled saying at the time. “So, I started researching it and found that a couple of companies made electric buses. But the price tag was $350,000, and I knew that would never fly, so I gave up on it.”
Then a few months ago, he learned that Maine was receiving more than $21 million from the Volkswagen emissions fraud settlement to replace old diesel-fueled vehicles with cleaner-running ones and that the Department of Transportation was accepting applications for grants.
Van Gorder and Butch Bracy, the high school’s head of maintenance, suggested to Principal Matt Haney that the school should apply, and he agreed.
On Jan. 17, Bracy was notified that the school was receiving $280,000. That was the most awarded to any school in the state, and it was the only award for an electric bus.
Haney said the school’s new rooftop solar array, which is expected to offset its electricity use, might have had something to do with the DOT’s decision to award the funds for an electric bus.
“We’re already using renewable energy,” he said.
The Volkswagen settlement grants to other schools in Maine were for reduced-emission diesel buses.
“We have at least two routes that we could reliably use the electric bus on,” Haney said. “We could use it on our runs to Hancock to pick up and drop off students or our runs to the Hancock County Technical Center [in Ellsworth].”
The bus could then be charged overnight at the high school and be ready to go the next morning.
“This bus has a range of 120 to 130 miles, so if we had a trip to the Bangor area, we could use it for that,” Haney said. “But we’ll be conservative with it at first to make sure the estimated range is the actual range.
“This is a great opportunity for us to try something that we know is going to work for us. We’re pretty excited about it.”
In addition to saving $25,000 on the purchase of a new bus, the school is expected to save about $5,000 a year in fuel costs and $1,000 a year in routine maintenance costs, Van Gorder said.
There are now several companies that make electric school buses. It will be a few months before the Maine Department of Transportation tells the school which companies it is authorized to buy from.
In court cases in 2016, Volkswagen was found to have sold more than a half-million diesel cars in the United States that were programmed to comply with federal standards for nitrogen-oxide emissions during tests but then to exceed those standards – by as much as 40 times — under normal driving conditions.
Under settlements approved by the courts, Volkswagen is paying nearly $3 billion into a “mitigation trust fund” to be distributed among the states.