British Columbia

Ride on the electric school bus? Gulf Islands district considers switch to zero-emission fleet

The Gulf Islands School District could purchase electric school buses after commissioning a study on the feasibility of converting their fleet.

Study found converting fleet could have environmental, financial and health benefits

A study done on the Gulf Islands found electric school buses can benefit school districts financially while also being healthier for the environment and students. (CBC)

Some students in the Gulf Islands may soon be riding on an electric school bus. 

School District 64, which includes Salt Spring, Galiano, Mayne, Saturna and Pender islands, recently commissioned a study on the feasibility of changing their fleet of 12 buses to electric and found the switch would not only reduce carbon emissions, but would also save the district money in the long run.

The study, conducted by the Salt Spring Community Energy Group in October 2018 and released this September, determined the district could save about $50,000 annually in fuel and maintenance expenses by making the changes.

It also noted the buses would be healthier for the environment and for children who often breathe in exhaust fumes while buses idle at stops.

But the new buses will cost a bit at the beginning.

Kjell Liem, project lead on the study, said a new electric bus starts at around $270,000. The district would also need to install charging infrastructure in the maintenance yard, which Liem estimated would cost more than $100,000 if the district purchased a dozen new buses and wanted a charging station for each.

According to Liem, warranties of up to 15 years for electric bus batteries mean they have a longer service life than the existing buses, which the province requires districts to retire every 12 years. 

"With this new technology, we're wondering if the province might want to adjust," Liem told Robyn Burns, host of CBC's All Points West. "If you replace the battery on a [electric] bus it can just keep going."

Workers build zero emission school buses at Lion Electric in Saint-Jérôme, Quebec. (Lion Electric Co.)

Liem also told Burns the province could help out with the initial costs by creating rebate incentives for school districts through their CleanBC programs, which Liem said currently has a $20,000 rebate for vehicles that cost less than $300,000.

"That's not quite enough incentive to make a school district take the plunge," said Liem. "We're hoping that there can be some government assistance to make this feasible for school districts."

Liem said he hopes other districts can learn from his "homework," and that school boards and the province will get on board with electric buses sooner rather than later because of the critical need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

The province's CleanBC climate plan set targets last December to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.

To hear the complete interview with Kjell Liem, click on the audio link below:

Kjell Liem, project lead at Salts Spring Community Energy Group, on the feasibility of bringing electric school buses to School District 64. 6:50

With files from All Points West

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