Location: Fort Payne, AL
Fleet Type: Electric School Buses

 

Narrative

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC) has worked  with the Fort Payne City Schools (FPCS) bus administration for several years. The Transportation Director, Dr. Laran Adkins, reached out to ACFC in June 2019 when Fort Payne began its due diligence regarding the acquisition of electric school buses. ACFC provided guidance regarding available funding opportunities, specifically the VW Settlement, and considerations regarding charging infrastructure.

When the VW funding opportunity became available for the Alabama Volkswagen Settlement Funding, Dr. Adkins made the decision to apply for two electric school buses for the school district. The district’s superintendent at that time, Jim Cunningham, was on board with the idea of his school district adding electric buses as a new and environmentally friendly mode of transportation. A grant application was submitted at the end of July 2019. Two (78) passenger type D 2021 Bluebird electric school buses were applied for at that time to retire two older diesel buses.

Applying for the Volkswagen (VW) Funding was an easy decision by FPSC. The overall positive effect on the environment due to the reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions, the reduction of exhaust the students would be exposed to and the fiscal benefit to the school district were the primary reasons FPSC chose to apply for the VW funding.

The primary stakeholders involved in the decision making included the superintendent, the utility company president, the board members, the mechanics, Dr Adkins, and various Blue Bird representatives. The superintendent and Dr. Adkins talked with the utility board representative several times to develop a plan for the acquisition of the two electric buses. The amount of electricity needed to charge the buses, peak charge times and cost of the electricity were all discussed.

Dr. Adkins  worked with Bluebird representatives to research the type of chargers the district would need to acquire and install. An outside company, chosen by FPSC, installed two chargers, and a local electrician ran the electrical for the chargers.

No major obstacles were encountered in getting the buses delivered to the bus facility nor getting them on the road. Training sessions were held with local emergency responders and bus drivers to familiarize them with the electric buses.

Everyone from first responders, bus drivers, community leaders, board members and parents were positive about the acquisition of the electric buses. The bus drivers love the electric school buses and have stated they never want to go back to a diesel bus.

When the VW settlement grant was received it paid 80% ($644,150) and FPCS paid the remaining 20% ($161,037) for the two Fort Payne City 2021 Blue Bird 78 passenger, type D school Buses.

The buses were put into service in the FPCS system in August 2020.

The electric buses are equipped with Air Conditioning, back up cameras, HEPA filtration systems and AC charging systems.

The Blue Bird buses produce zero emissions, improve air quality, and require less maintenance, saving the FPCS district both time and money.

When purchased, the buses could travel 120 miles between charges (without A/C) and 100 miles with the A/C in operation.

The buses have fourteen batteries or two banks of seven. In 2020, the estimate to replace the batteries, if needed, was $150,000. The cost is significantly higher now. The batteries have an 8-year warranty which was extended by Blue Bird to 10 years. Ten years is the average longevity of a school bus in Alabama.

Charge time for the buses is 6-8 hours for a full charge, however they can be charged at any battery percentage (and therefore shorter time), if needed.

FPCS installed two 80 A chargers, (Clipper Creek CS-100) 208-240V, served by a 3 phase 208 V panel. The chargers are typically used about 4 hours a day, 20 days per month or 80 hours per month. Charging costs are approximately $145 per bus per month in comparison to approximately $700-$1,000 (dependent on diesel pricing) per bus per month. The two chargers along with normal building usage, are staying under the 50 kW demand. If more buses are added only two buses at a time would be charged in order to stay under the 50 kW demand to save on the utilities demand charges.

FPCS has found the benefits of Electric Buses now in operation to be:

  • Zero emissions
  • Reduced maintenance costs
  • No motor noise/noticeably quiet
  • A/C more efficient
  • No heat from engine compartment
  • A significant benefit is that both bus drivers love their electric buses!

Outputs & Outcomes

Outputs:

  • 2019 submittal of VW grant for two electric school buses
  • Charger build out completed in early 2020, before receipt of buses.
  • Training of First Responders and all stakeholders involved with operation of new electric buses.
  • Measurement of actual energy usage and adjustment of charging scheduling to avoid demand charges.

Outcomes:

  • Students and drivers are exposed to less particulate matter, NOx, and other direct health related emissions.
  • The electric buses are quieter, allowing both drivers and students to be more engaged.
  • There is less fuel and maintenance costs.
  • Driver satisfaction includes ease of driving, power, and response.
  • The public and students ask questions about “driving electric.”
  • The total cost of ownership is projected to be less than diesel counterparts over the life of the buses.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

  • The acquisition of the district’s first electric buses was a learning curve for FPSC. Dealing with the unknown was particularly challenging. FPSC is now more knowledgeable in preparing for the next grant process and future acquisition of additional electric buses.
  • Training for FPSC mechanics is a continual process for the electric buses. Initially, several issues were encountered with charging the buses, heat on the buses and software updates, etc. Cummins was called to diagnose, service and repair issues. FPSC mechanics were always standing by to offer their insight and assistance as needed.
  • Meet and engage with your local utility representative early and often to discuss the  infrastructure and amount of electricity needed for additional chargers. This is one of the most important steps in preparation for acquiring electric buses and it should start at least one year in advance.
  • Plan ahead with your utility to determine optimum charging schedules to avoid costly demand charges.
  • School systems need to coordinate with their local power company and electrical contractor to get material ordered for building out charging stations.

PDF Version

Fort Payne Electric School Buses Fleet Story

post contents

Read More Fleet Success Stories