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DOE applies for federal Clean School Bus Rebate Program to replace 31 buses

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Delaware’s Department of Education has applied for the federal Clean School Bus Rebate Program to help pay for 31 new clean-energy buses.

DOE is working to replace all state-owned school buses that are 10 years or older with cleaner options - and these grants help the state to purchase 14 electric and 17 propane buses.

Out of a fleet of about 500, 108 are already propane, which DOE’s Associate Secretary of Operation Support Kim Klein says are nearly zero-emission.

“Propane buses are a near-zero emissions engine, where electric are obviously zero," she said. "Probably about five or six years ago Delaware started, through some other federal funding opportunities, transitioning to propane engines, which at the time were really thought to be the next step, the big movement in reducing emissions.”

The 14 electric buses would be Delaware’s first.

“We believe after the rebate funding, the state would pay approximately 100 to $150,000 per bus if they are approved for the electric buses," Klein said And then for the propane, we generally pay around $100,00 for a propane bus in total, that rebate would give us about $20,000 for each propane bus that might be approved.”

Because the Clean School Bus program requires getting rid of older buses when new ones are purchased, none of buses can be treated as "spares."

Klein notes training and maintenance on the electric buses will require special training for drivers, mechanics, and even first responders in the case of a fire incident.

Klein says there are other factors to consider in cost like special needs buses and the size of the buses. She adds the state will have to navigate some potential challenges like figuring out how far the buses can actually go on a full charge.

“The geography that you’re driving, is it a flat level road or is it a hilly road? How many people are you putting on the bus? In the winter you have the heat, in the summer you have the air conditioner," Klein said. "All of those things remove battery life.”

The EPA expects to make award announcements in October, giving the DOE until April to secure the buses and have them built and delivered for use as early as spring 2024.

Across school districts, 7 propane buses would go to Brandywine, 2 propane to Caesar Rodney, 3 electric and 1 propane to both Capital and Colonial, and 8 electric and 6 propane to Red Clay.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.