The Bulletin

As school year begins, electric school bus plans pick up speed statewide

By: - August 20, 2021 4:41 pm

An electric school bus in Chesterfield County. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration and Dominion Energy are moving forward with plans to begin replacing diesel buses with electric or propane alternatives. 

On Thursday, Northam announced that Virginia will spend more than $10.5 million in funds from the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” settlement to replace 83 diesel buses in 19 school divisions with electric or propane-fueled buses. The money will be used to cover the price difference between diesel and alternatively fueled buses. 

The biggest award will go to Fairfax County, which will receive 10 electric school buses at a cost of $2.65 million. Virginia Beach, Newport News, Halifax and Chesterfield will each also receive 10 propane-fueled buses. 

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor called the investments “an important and critical part of our comprehensive approach to reducing pollution” and estimated that the replacements will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10,000 tons annually. 

The Virginia chapter of the national Mothers Out Front environmental movement, however, issued a statement saying they were “disheartened” by the inclusion of propane buses in the awards. 

“We call on Governor Northam to commit to a fully electric fleet in round two of this program,” the group wrote. 

Altogether, Virginia has pledged to put $20 million in Volkswagen funds toward replacing diesel school buses.

Northam’s announcement, which was made during a Climate Action Campaign event in Richmond’s Capitol Square to encourage federal investment in clean transportation infrastructure, was not the only recent rollout of the technology. 

Earlier this month, following in the footsteps of other divisions, Chesterfield County schools ceremonially plugged in their first two electric school buses, which they acquired as part of a program being run by utility Dominion Energy. 

Dominion has been distributing 50 electric buses to school divisions throughout its territory, with Virginia Beach and Fairfax counties each receiving eight and smaller quantities going to jurisdictions from Pittsylvania to Middlesex. The switch to electric buses come as students head back to school and many localities struggle with bus driver shortages.

This story was updated to correct the localities that received eight buses from Dominion.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.