Greeley Junior Advocates for District to Start With Electric Bus Transition

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Horace Greeley High School junior Darian Paez is hoping to convince Chappaqua school officials to start their transition to electric school buses as soon as possible.

In 2027, school districts across the state will be forced to buy electric buses to transport their students, and lack of resources or infrastructure may impede some from complying with state law.

Horace Greeley High School junior Darian Paez is working hard to ensure that the Chappaqua School District isn’t on that list.

Paez, a leader in his school’s Sustainability Club, has been pushing district officials to start thinking ahead so they will not only adhere to the state’s looming mandate, but also consider protecting the health of students as soon as possible.

All new school bus purchases in New York State must be electric vehicles in four years, while a district’s entire fleet or their contracted carrier’s fleet must be fully electrified by Jan. 1, 2035, under state law. Recent estimates are that only about 1 percent of the state’s school buses are electrified.

“In my opinion, at a time like this when we have the tools, it would be very beneficial to start with at least a pilot so we’re not scrambling in 2027 and we have a plan for when that day comes,” said Paez, who got the idea to help the environment after attending a summer wilderness camp in Vermont a couple of years ago.

His goal between now and next June when he will graduate is to have the district have plans for at least the start of a pilot program.

He reached out to the Town of New Castle’s Sustainability Advisory Board, and one of its members, Vivek Agastya, who has been serving as an informal adviser to Paez’s efforts. They have pulled together a working group of like-minded town residents who are striving to help the district start with the transition from diesel to electric.

“I believe once they see the result of some of the work we’re doing, the school district will agree to dip their toe into deploying electric school buses in the coming year,” Agastya said. “As to what we (the working group) can do, our intent is to outline a solution that works for the school district and get them to commit the resources to begin to formulate their own plan.”

Paez believes starting small but relatively quickly is achievable. He pointed to the Croton-Harmon School District that put its first electric bus on the road in October and has another on order that is expected to arrive this summer and be available for the start of the new academic year.

The purpose of a pilot would allow the district to monitor potential cost savings and positive health and environmental impacts, Paez said. He believes there are companies that would allow a district to pay what they pay now for a single bus, and the savings would help pay it back.

Plus, there would be positive health impact, he contended. One electric school bus would save roughly .0158 metric tons of CO2, per day, according to information he gleaned from Croton-Harmon. There are no emissions from an electric bus.

“The longer we wait the more demand is going to come for these buses,” Paez said. “So it may be cheaper now to get an electric bus and not wait for every other district.”

A call to Chappaqua Transportation, the carrier that the district has its contract, was referred to school officials. Andrew Lennon, the Chappaqua Schools’ assistant superintendent for business, said they are awaiting guidance on how to begin electrifying the buses.

“The district has been in preliminary discussions on how to meet this unfunded mandate as we wait for additional guidance from New York State,” Lennon responded in an e-mail.

The president of Bird Bus, the company that is supplying Croton-Harmon with its first two electric buses, said there are real challenges that districts are facing.

Robert Reichenbach said the first is cost. A new, full-size electric 66-passenger school bus runs upward of $400,000, compared to the $120,000 to $150,000 cost for a diesel bus.

There’s also finite grant money available, Reichenbach said. (Croton-Harmon received a $120,000 NYSERDA grant to help defray the cost for its first electric bus.) He urged districts to pursue grant funding because currently there are federal monies available as part of a five-year commitment. After that, it’s not clear how much funding might be available.

However, there are other challenges that lie ahead. Whether it’s the infrastructure or the volume of power that will be needed to charge the vehicles, districts need to start planning, Reichenbach said.

“If you wait until 2027 to do your infrastructure, you may very well end up with a bus and no charger because the utility is not prepared to provide enough power,” Reichenbach said.

For Paez, he has heard that some parents in the community have been concerned about health impacts because of the smell of diesel fumes.

“I’m hoping to advocate for the public to really get involved with this,” he said.

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