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Panama-Buena Vista Union School District works towards green energy future

Posted at 4:27 PM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-13 19:55:18-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The San Joaquin Valley Air Control District wants schools to consider using zero-emission school buses and they're willing to provide funding based on availability.

23ABC’s Keeley Van Middendorp spoke with one school district in Kern County that's already going green and ready to be the next recipient of a clean energy grant that would provide funding to purchase a number of new electric buses.

The Panama-Buena Vista Union School District has been using renewable diesel for the past four years. But officials say this is just the start of their plan for a cleaner energy future.

Nef: “It’s all about being eco-friendly,” said Director of Transportation Nef Perez Lopez. “It's all about taking care of the environment.”

Perez Lopes says their district will be applying for funding that will purchase 10 electric school buses.

“We believe at Panama that if we can provide cleaner technology, buses that are more eco-friendly to our communities, not only is it going to benefit the students, but it's a great benefit to everybody involved,” he said.

The grant would be awarded through the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s Zero-Emission School Bus Replacement Incentive Program.. A statement by spokesperson Heather Heinks says in part: “Replacing older school buses is critically important to reduce children’s exposure to diesel emissions including NOx and pm2.5, as these pollutants negatively impact human health, especially for sensitive populations such as children.”

The school district’s 69 school buses cover around 420,000 miles a year. Perez Lopez says the new e-buses would only be used on certain routes.

“The mileage, the coverage of these buses, obviously, since it's electric, it's not very far,” he said. “So we will have to, you know, assign these electric buses to routes that are confined to 130 mile radius, or make sure that they don't go over the 130-mile driving range.”

Perez Lopez says they may have to rethink some routes that are farther out - but tells 23ABC it’s doable for the district.

“Possibly not cutting routes, but maybe just changing them up, maybe doing some modifications, making some routes a little smaller, for that particular bus,” he said.

Fleet Supervisor George Halbrook says the district’s decision to use renewable diesel has already cut carbon emissions by 24% to 33% and repair costs by 25%.

“We’ve had less wear and tear on the motors,” he said. “that stuff does burn hotter to where it cleans better.”

Some training would be needed to get mechanics up to speed on the new buses – but Halbrook says they’re up for the challenge.

Perez Lopez says money from the grant would not just help the district purchase electric buses, but it would also set up the infrastructure needed to charge them.

“PG&E will come out and do an assessment of our power, where we're at with the power grid and the structure and if there's any upgrades that have to be done,” he said. “Then it's usually these costs that are covered under this grant.”

The district is hoping to set up 15 electric charging stations on the eastern edge of the parking lot to begin should they get the funding.

The statement from the San Joaquin Air Control Pollution District about the zero-emission school bus replacement incentive program continued, “The zero-emission school bus replacement incentive program provides monetary incentives for the replacement of existing yellow school buses that transport public school children to and from school with cleaner zero-emission school buses. The program is currently over-subscribed and working to replace over 50 school buses that serve school districts located within (or provide service to) a designated disadvantaged community or low income community in the San Joaquin valley air basin.”