Call to Action: Support Electric School Bus Bill
We need your help. A bill that could help school districts across the state transition to clean electric school buses is facing stiff headwinds. Please call members of the conference committee and ask them to ensure it's passage with a couple key tweaks.
Electric school buses (ESBs) promise to eliminate tailpipe emissions while reducing greenhouse gases that threaten our climate. A program announced by Dominion Energy last fall is bringing 50 ESBs to the state this fall, and could bring up to 200 more per year over the next five years…. if the legislature acts.
The idea behind the program is as follows.
School districts want ESBs because they eliminate toxic fumes and they’re less costly to maintain. But, they’re expensive to buy upfront. An ESB and the infrastructure required to charge it routinely costs $370,000 vs a new diesel bus which costs about $100,000 (though costs are expected to fall quickly as these vehicles scale up and battery costs drop).
Enter the utility.
Dominion is offering to pay for the cost difference for schools. Why would Dominion do that? School buses don’t run in the middle of the day or in the summer so they can function as giant battery farms. You can plug the bus in during the summer months, Dominion can push electricity onto the battery when the cost to do so is cheap and then pull the electricity back off the bus during times of peak demand during the day. This helps stabilize the load on the grid… so it’s good for their business.
All in all, it’s a pretty clever approach. Sure, it helps Dominion… and we certainly understand people’s skepticism. Dominion has been far from the poster child of sustainability. But this approach allows us to strike two blows against climate change simultaneously. We replace dirty diesel buses with clean ESBs and we give the utility a way to meet demand peaks without having to fire up the gas plants.
Furthermore, this is a sustainable source of revenue school districts can use to transition a huge portion of their fleets over time. Buses that curb climate emissions, reduce toxins in the air our kids breathe and cost less to maintain are something every school district wants, without exception. The upfront cost is the barrier and this program allows schools to address that. Sure, the state could step in. In fact, Gov Northam has already announced $20 million to help fund this transition. But here’s the reality — that will pay for roughly 75 ESBs and the legislature failed to pass and fund any other ESB grants. Virginia has 17,000 diesel buses on the road today. This program will bring 200 ESBs a year online over the next five years and Dominion has announced they’d like to scale it further after that… up to 100% of new buses beginning in 2030. This is a climate and clean air solution on a scale we cannot ignore. And yes, it’s worth it for everyone to pay slightly higher base rates to afford it.
A different version of the bill passed each chamber and will be hashed out in conference. Since earlier in the session, there has been significant pushback from Delegates in the House about the concept in general — namely that Dominion should be able to raise bate rates to pay for this.
We should absolutely expand this program and it is worth a small increase in our base rates. But, we need to make sure this is done correctly. Specifically:
We need to make sure this program is funding electric buses only. Language in the Senate’s version leaves open the possibility this money could be used to pay for hybrid buses. We should be spending money to invest in the best possible technology — and that means 100% electric.
We should ensure these costs are paid for by increasing the base rates, not passing them on in fees. The SCC will begin reviewing proposed base rates and can ensure that Dominion isn’t overcharging consumers for this project. This is money well spent, as long as we’re paying a reasonable price for it.
This bill is in conference committee now. Please call the three senators and three delegates that will be deciding this bill and ask them to pass it with our recommended changes.
HB 75 Conference Members:
Senator Spruill (D- 5)
Capitol: (804) 698-7505
District: (757) 424-2178
Senator Hashmi (D- 10)
Capitol/ District: (804) 698-7510
Senator Cosgrove (R-14)
Captiol: (804) 698-7514
District: (757) 547-3422
Delegate Kory (D- 38) – (Patron of the Bill)
Capitol: (804) 698-1038
District: (703) 354-6024
Delegate McQuinn (D- 70)
Capitol/District: (804) 698-1070
Delegate Roxanne Robinson (R- 27)
Capitol/ District: (804) 698-1027
Joe Rupp, Climate Advocate