ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will invest $3 million in the replacement of older, diesel-powered school buses with new electric ones, officials announced Wednesday, Aug. 5.
Up to $275,000 or 75% of project costs, whichever is less, will be awarded to schools in the state using proceeds from Minnesota' share of the Volkswagen emission scandal settlement fund. Officials estimate that will be enough to put at least six electric school buses on the road by the fall of 2022.
Speaking in front of the Minnesota Capitol at a news conference broadcast online Wednesday, MPCA Laura Bishop said the program is the first of its kind in the Midwest.
"We’re committed to cleaning up school buses for two reasons: one, we know that they are a major source of emissions in our local neighborhoods, and two, we know that children are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution," she said.
The program would seem to be another effort on Minnesota's part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Since 2007, the state has been working toward an emission reduction goal of 80% by 2050.
Having reigned in energy industry emissions by an estimated 30%, regulators have lately set their sights on another major polluter: the transportation sector. Minnesota is already on track to adopt California emission standards lower than those the Trump administration recently reverted back to, and the MPCA estimates that replacing just one diesel-powered school bus with an electric alternative can cut emissions by around 29 tons over the life of the bus.
Still, state Department of Transportation commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher said Wednesday that there is more work to do and that "this program ... is an important step forward."
Officials said Wednesday that the program will also serve as something of an experiment meant to assess the viability of electric heavy-duty vehicles in different parts of the state. Four zones, representing Minnesota's northern, central, southern and metropolitan counties, are being targeted to receive one to two electric bus grants apiece.
Schools that receive the grants will be required to share bus details with the state during the first year they are deployed, including days of use, miles traveled and energy costs.
The data may help to better understand the extent to which cold weather affects electric car performance, officials said.
Anjali Bains, a senior policy analyst with Fresh Energy Minnesota said in a phone interview Wednesday that car batteries are affected by cold weather "just like the batteries in your phone," but that "vehicle technology is increasing and improving at an astounding rate."
"So the larger the batteries and longer the ranges we can get, the less of an issue cold weather impacts on batteries will be," she said.
Approximately 5,800 school buses could be eligible for replacement through the program, officials said. Only one electric school bus is currently in service in Minnesota, they said, in the Lakeville public school district.
While talk of electric cars often centers on personal vehicles, electrified public transit is gaining momentum as well, according to Great Plains Institute transportation and fuel program director Katelyn Bocklund.
"There's definitely been some great movement in both the medium-duty and heavy-duty electric space across the U.S. And even globally, there's electric buses that are operating in climates that are much colder than ours," she said.
Editor's note: This story was updated Aug. 6 for clarity.