Electric school buses join the fleet in Chesapeake

Chesapeake Electric School Bus.jpg
Posted at 6:44 AM, May 07, 2021

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - From filling up to charging up, a new wave of school buses are pounding the pavement in Chesapeake.

The newest bus arrived at the district's transportation compound about a week and a half ago. The two vehicles are part of Dominion Energy's electric school bus program, and Phase One is on track to bring 50 buses to localities across Virginia.

Bonita Billingsley Harris, Regional Director for Dominion Energy, said, "Transportation is the number one source of carbon emissions, so it's important to us in our efforts to expand clean energy to help schools in that effort. We're especially proud that school districts like Chesapeake Schools are innovative enough to take this on at a time when there are so many other things going on."

Under the program, school districts will pay the same cost as they would to replace a regular diesel bus, which is around $100,000, and Dominion Energy will offset the additional cost for the electric school bus, which is upwards of $300,000, and related charging infrastructure.

Along with the buses, Dominion's grant covered the charging stations, which are currently housed at the district's transportation compound.

To ensure that everyone from the bus drivers to the local emergency responders know the ins and outs of an electric bus, Chesapeake Public Schools and its partners will undergo a week-long training.

"We're hoping to get answers to a lot of the questions like length of time for a charge, and then once it's charged, the approximate mileage that you can get out of a single charge," said David Benson, Director of Student Transportation. "We'll be able to learn through these two [electric buses] how we can incorporate and how we can plan on moving forward."

Benson said the average round trip for their current diesels is around 30 miles. He said the large size of the City of Chesapeake, about 351 mi², will have an impact on what routes the bus is able to travel.

"When you start talking about trying to cover that kind of geography and you're limited as to where you can get your fuel and not having access to other charging stations, [it makes logistics] a little bit more of a challenge than a diesel bus, which is able to pull into multiple sites throughout the city and refuel," Benson said.

However, Dominion Energy reports that those logistical changes will be well worth the effort in the long run.

According to the company, replacing one diesel bus can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 54,000 pounds each year. That’s the equivalent of 3.75 pounds of carbon dioxide for every mile driven.

Another change you will notice is how quiet the electric buses are. Benson and Harris said this increases safety on board because it allows for better communication between drivers and students.

"They also save a lot of money in the operation and maintenance, 60% less in cost that can go towards learning for the students," said Harris.

Getting away from diesel, the buses also have what's called "vehicle-to-grid technology."

An electric school bus acts as a giant battery, storing energy until it is needed. When energy demands are high or if energy resources are intermittent, the batteries in electric school buses can provide power to the grid to help meet current demands.

Harris said, "These buses can also work as batteries so we are advancing our technology when it comes to battery storage and energy storage."

Benson said the buses also teach students what happens when technology and sustainability collide.

"It will certainly plant the seeds and let them know that there are alternatives even for a school bus," he said.

According to Dominion, other local schools interested in the pilot program include Norfolk, Virginia Beach, James City County and Hampton.