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New program supports electric buses in NY schools

An electric school bus driver examines his safety stop signs before driving to school.
Tom Brenner
An electric school bus driver examines his safety stop signs before driving to school.

A state initiative being rolled out in New York is supplying funding to support school districts transitioning from diesel to electric school buses.

The plan being administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will provide funding from the state’s Environmental Bond Act.

Nina Haiman, NYSERDA’s program manager of clean transportation, said hundreds of millions of dollars were available to support charging infrastructure.

“We have $500 million available that came out of voter-approved funds to support districts both in purchasing buses and chargers,” she said.

For buses, the base dollar amount covered starts at $114,000 and goes up as other program requirements are met.

For chargers, school districts accepted into the plan will receive a minimum of $25,000 per bus. If districts elect to complete a fleet electrification plan, which creates a path forward for districts to fully switch their fleet over several years, their eligibility increases by up to $30,000 per bus.

To help school districts complete the fleet electrification plan, NYSERDA is covering 75% of the cost for districts to work with engineering firms to develop plans for each district.

Under state law, NYSERDA is also providing additional funds for districts that serve disadvantaged communities — that are disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate-contributing emissions — to establish the charging infrastructure and could receive an additional $10,000 per bus.

“Any New York state education department designated as a high-need district is considered a priority district,” Haiman said. “In addition, any district where 40% or more of the population lives in a state disadvantaged community… is also considered a priority district.”

Districts that serve these communities will also have the full cost covered by the state if they elect to conduct a fleet electrification plan.

Haiman specified that an initiative goal was to improve student health, as data shows that diesel emissions from current buses are unhealthy for students.

John Luthringer, the superintendent of the Lake George Central School District, expressed gratitude in a statement for the opportunity to raise funds.

“Lake George is thrilled to be one of the first districts to receive school bus voucher funding through the NY School Bus Incentive Program, and we look forward to applying for additional financial support through the charging program,” he said. “As school districts continue to work toward meeting the state’s requirements for purchasing electric buses, these funding opportunities are incredibly important for schools to take advantage of.”

Sky Crabtree is a news intern at WSHU for the spring of 2024.