Location: Pikeville, TN
Fleet Type: Class 8 All-electric School Buses

 

Narrative

Bledsoe County Schools (BCS) serves the students in Bledsoe County, TN, which is along the Cumberland Plateau that separates the “Middle” and “East” grand divisions of Tennessee, has a population of roughly 15,000, and is listed as a “distressed” county as of the 2023-24 Tennessee economic status index. The elevation in the county changes by more than 2,000’ from low points to high points, and BCS has routes that run in mostly flatter, valley areas and routes that run along and up and down the side of the Plateau.

East TN Clean Fuels (ETCF) got to know BCS and their Transportation Director Brian Turner in 2019 as he applied for funding from the state’s allotment of state DERA funding for one new diesel school bus. Not long after they acquired that new diesel bus, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) appropriated funds to the EPA for “activities that identify and address disproportionate environmental or public health harms and risks in minority populations or low-income populations” under several programs, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA). The 2021 ARP Electric School Bus Rebates offered $7 million to eligible school districts and private fleet owners for the replacement of old diesel school buses with new electric school buses, and were an addition to the typical, annual EPA school bus replacement grant funds. Selected applicants that complied with the grant requirements (including scrapping their old diesel buses) received $300,000 per new electric school bus requested. (The 2021 ARP rebates came out about the same time as the EPA’s “Clean School Bus” Program funding, which included $5 billion to be spent over five years by EPA to fund cleaner-fueled school buses across the country, but were not part of that funding.) Only 23 total electric school buses were awarded in the ARP funding, and BCS received funding for two electric buses through it.

While the district was awaiting delivery of the buses, the bus charging infrastructure needed to be installed. Enter the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative (SVEC), who partnered with the district and installed a charging station for the buses. IC Bus has been working with InCharge as their charging solutions provider, and the team installed one ICE-60kW DC fast charging unit that has two charging cables. The fast-charging system can charge two buses via a CCS1 connector at the same time, and has a limit of 60 kW total power which can be shared across the two charging vehicles. The photos just below show the first bus to be received and the DCFC charging unit.

The first CE Series Electric school bus received is shown at left; BCS’s DC fast charging unit, with two charging cables, is at right

In fall 2022, Brian Turner checked the new buses for roadworthiness, and with the charging partners ensured that the charging system worked as it was supposed to, and started transporting Bledsoe County students on emissions-free, quieter buses.   

Outputs & Outcomes

The greatest result is the fact that an electric school bus has zero tailpipe emissions because the propulsion system has no tailpipe – there are no longer ANY diesel combustion emissions at the ground, passenger, driver, and community level. All other combustion propulsion systems (i.e., diesel, gasoline, propane, natural gas) still have emissions that are released in the community, that directly impact human health. The U.S. needs to reduce diesel use as much as is possible, as fast as possible. The use of diesel has profound impacts on both climate change and direct human well-being. As noted from the EPA, “(there is) staggering damage that diesel emissions from the transportation sector inflict on U.S. communities, charting the more than 8,800 deaths, 3,700 heart attacks, hundreds of thousands of respiratory illnesses, and approximately $100 billion in monetized health damages per year across the U.S.” [1]

The outputs and outcomes are numerous and include:

  • A quieter and smoother ride for the students and driver – no more loud diesel engine noise.
  • That extends to the bus driver’s ability to better hear what is going on inside the bus, especially when compared to older diesel buses that had the engine at the front of the bus, drowning out the driver’s ability to hear what is going on around him or her. This is an improvement in the safety of the kids that ride that bus.
  • The district no longer needs to ride the wave of petroleum price volatility, which brings more stability to transportation management’s fiscal planning. (Prices for West Texas Intermediate crude oil have vacillated from $33.71 per barrel in 2000, to $196.84 in 2008, to $22.61 in 2020, and to $90.79 in 2023.)
  • Criteria pollutants are no longer emitted by the students’ yellow transporter, so this brings health benefits to the students including reduced impacts from particulate matter (PM-2.5) and the gases that nitrogen dioxides (NOx) can form, such as ozone.
  • That elimination of released criteria pollutants extends benefits into the local community as well as the buses’ pollutants and their associated health impacts have been removed from county roads.
  • In Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority provides power to almost the entire state. They have reduced the amount of coal used in electricity generation in Tennessee from nearly 60% in the early 2000’s to roughly 20% in the early 2020’s, and are now at an almost 60% greenhouse gas-free electricity production (GHG-free, thanks in large part to a nearly 40% nuclear base load). From ETCleanFuels analysis, switching one diesel bus to one electric bus can yield a 50-70% reduction in GHG emissions each year.

[1] 2022, January. Clean Air Task Force website, “New CATF tool maps the staggering U.S. health and economic damages caused by diesel emissions”, https://www.catf.us/2022/01/new-catf-tool-maps-staggering-health-economic-damages-caused-diesel-emissions/.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

  1. Like BCS did, bring the partners you need to work on the project like your OEM bus reps and the local electric utility into the conversation as soon as possible. Multiple problems can be removed or mitigated with early and often communications.
  2. Clear communication with the bus representatives can lead to bringing in the OEM electric bus or charging system representatives who are likely very well-versed in all aspects of the bus or the charging equipment. Sometimes they might be able to help answer questions and resolve potential issues faster than anyone else on the bus implementation team.

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 Bledsoe CS Fleet Story

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