For the second straight year, Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) was selected as one of the winners of the Electric School Bus Fund, which was started by Portland General Electric (PGE).

With the grant, PGE covers the difference in cost between a traditional school bus and an electric bus. According to T.J. Crockett, SKPS director of transportation services, a gas-fueled traditional small bus that seats 20 people is approximately $76,000, while the electric version of the small bus costs $252,000. A large, 78-person traditional bus costs $150,000, while the electric type is $360,000 — SKPS ordered a small bus for the first grant last year and a large bus for the second grant.

PGE also covers the funding for an electric bus charger with all associated installation costs, as well as bus driver and technician training.

“We haven't had a lot of opportunities in this district to do any alternative fuel work. The grant gives us an opportunity to enter into that space to see if the vehicle will work for us, without costing us as a district the full price of an electric bus,” Crockett said.

Transportation is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon and a major source of other air pollutants. Benefits of the electric school buses include cleaner air and lower costs for fuel and maintenance, plus better safety and comfort for students.

“Electrifying transportation is a key driver of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and an important step toward reaching our goal of 100% clean energy for all Oregonians,” said Maria Pope, president and CEO of PGE. “Seeing kids of all ages, our future, traveling to and from school in electric buses is a moment of pride for all of us at PGE, and we are excited to partner with school districts across the state.”

SKPS received their first grant from PGE in Sept. 2020, but the district didn't receive the bus until right before the school year started. Crockett is hoping that the bus from the first grant will be on the streets later this month – the second bus won’t be in-service until the 2022-23 school year.

“The electric bus pipeline is not very big. It takes a bit,” Crockett said. “What we are getting with this grant now, we probably won't see for 12 months.”

The buses will be rotated through different Salem-Keizer school routes so that the district can get accurate data on what routes and areas of town the busses are most efficient and effective.

 “Part of what we want to do with this grant is really collect good data to see if it makes sense to expand the fleet in this way,” Crockett said.

Last year, the Salem-Keizer School Board passed a proposal that gave the district 195 new buses, as well as a new transportation facility on Gaffin Rd. in Salem, which will give SKPS the space needed to expand their electric bus fleet if they choose to do so.

“When we get good data there, that's when we will be able to make good decisions about how much we move in that way, because one electric bus a year under a grant is not going to make a giant impact,” Crockett said. “Right now we are gathering data to see what is the best way for us to go as a district.”

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]