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Pine Valley, Bemus Point receive funding for electric school buses

Two local school districts have recently received state funding to help with the purchase of electric buses.

Both schools received this funding through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Rebate Program. As a part of the program the EPA selected 47 communities to benefit from rebates that total about $95.7 million for the purchase of over 350 electric school buses and five propane buses. Of this total, the Buffalo School District is slated to receive over $8 million to purchase 25 buses. The Clean School Bus Rebate program provides upfront payments to eligible entities to subsidize buying zero-emission or clean school buses, fund the necessary charging infrastructure, and pay for related expenses like professional training. Recipients get the money upfront to ensure a smooth purchasing process.

The state has mandated that all new buses sold must be zero-emission by 2027 and that all school buses on the road be zero-emission by 2035. Pine Valley will receive $2,760,000 for the purchase of eight buses and Bemus Point will receive $400,000 for the purchase of two buses to help begin this required transition.

“These funds will be integral in building the electric fleet at Pine Valley,” Pine Valley Superintendent Shanda DuClon said. “I am thrilled that we have been awarded funding for electrification while significantly reducing the impact on our taxpayers. Rural school districts face several challenges, and transitioning to electric vehicles is one of them. Because of these funds, our burden to shoulder is much lighter.”

Pine Valley had applied for EPA funding earlier in the year in collaboration with Mathews Buses. The district has made it a priority to capitalize on any available funding to help with the requirements of the mandate, and Transportation Supervisor Kristin Sercu said doing that is both very important to her and the school.

“As a district resident and employee, it has been very important to me to work to secure funds that are available to help support our school,” Sercu said. “Being able to extend this opportunity to our students and community for a safer, cleaner bus ride is directly aligned with our priorities as a district. I’m excited about the next chapter and am truly grateful for the funds that have been made available to Pine Valley.”

Prior to notification from the EPA, the district had already purchased an electric bus through the 2023-24 budget, with charger installation to support the bus completed. Pine Valley also plans to continue purchasing the EV and diesel buses included in the 2024-25 budget, and will continue to purchase diesel buses as long as they are able to. By utilizing multiple funding streams, the district is able to continue purchasing diesel buses while more quickly meeting the mandate to move to electric. The district has current work slated for the recently approved 2023 Capital Improvement Project related to preparation for electrification, including the addition of a transformer dedicated to the bus garage. The chargers for buses will be funded primarily through NYSBIP charger voucher funding. While the district awaits further guidance from the EPA this week, it continues to coordinate with engineers and the construction management team to ensure that work moving forward goes smoothly. Selected districts have until November of 2024 to submit their request for payment under the EPA rebate program.

Bemus Point has also been working on applying for every grant and rebate program available to help them meet the requirements for the electric school bus mandate. With the $400,000 now available in reserve for the purchase of two electric buses, Superintendent Joseph Reyda said they can continue to work to make this transition as cost effective as possible.

“Electric buses are much more costly than traditional diesel buses,” Reyda said. “Since our community annually votes to approve these purchases, we want to make them as cost efficient as we can. Not only can we use these funds to help purchase an electric school bus, we can also use them to help pay for the charging station installations at the bus garage. This rebate will not cover the entire cost of the two buses and bus garage changes, but it will help. Every little bit helps.”

Bemus Point is not considered a priority district for any potential grant or rebate funding, and Reyda said the school was shocked to receive notice of the EPA award. Now, the goal is to use the funds to their greatest potential and continue to look for additional funding sources.

“Our community already approved the purchase of two new diesel buses for the 2024-25 school year,” Reyda said. “The rebate award will not change this current bus replacement plan. We are now working with the EPA to determine when we can use the rebate award.”

As the mandate continues to move closer, Reyda said the school is making it a priority to continue to find other funding sources to not take away anything else from the school.

“We are very grateful for the rebate award and what it will provide to our district,” Reyda said. “However, we know that we can’t stop looking for new grants and rebates. We have to find a way to make this transition possible without losing staffing or student programs.”

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