FCPS wins $16M federal grant to buy more electric school buses

An electric school bus on display at Flint Hill Elementary School in Vienna (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County Public Schools will more than double the number of electric buses in its fleet, thanks to a new federal grant.

The local school system has been awarded $16.59 million as a winner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s inaugural Clean School Bus program grants competition. The other winner announced yesterday (Monday) was also from Virginia: Newport News Public Schools will receive $525,000.

The funds will enable FCPS to purchase 42 electric school buses. According to its website, the district currently has eight electric buses in a fleet with 1,625 buses, but it was slated to add another 10 in 2022. FCPS didn’t respond by press time when asked to confirm whether those buses are now operating.

“We are honored and excited to be among the recipients of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Awards,” FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid said in a statement. “This recognition not only underscores our commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship but also reflects our ongoing efforts to provide healthier, cleaner transportation for all Fairfax County Public Schools students.”

FCPS has pledged to provide entirely carbon-neutral student transportation by 2035. The first electric school bus arrived in January 2021 as part of a statewide initiative led by Dominion Energy, which had proposed replacing all diesel school buses in Virginia by 2030.

However, the Virginia House of Delegates voted against expanding Dominion Energy’s program that spring, instead creating a grant fund that never got funding.

After getting eight electric buses from Dominion in 2021, FCPS received a state grant for 10 buses out of a settlement agreement with Volkswagen, which had been sued in 2016 for cheating on vehicle emissions tests.

The new federal grant funds come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Joe Biden in 2021, allocating $5 billion to create the Clean School Bus program, which is dedicated to replacing existing school buses with “zero-emission and low-emission models.”

While FCPS intends to buy electric buses, Newport News requested funding to add propane-fueled buses, a switch it said will reduce emissions and lower fuel and maintenance costs.

Rep. Gerry Connolly called the grant “a game-changer” for FCPS.

“The environmental benefits of these new buses are vitally important to our fight against climate change, but the good news doesn’t stop there,” Connolly said. “Students, staff, and parents who spend time on and around school buses will no longer be exposed to diesel exhaust and other toxins from diesel-powered buses.”

Outside of the school system, the Fairfax County government adopted an operational energy strategy in 2021 whose targets included converting all of its buses and fleet vehicles to electricity or another non-carbon-emitting fuel by 2035.

Fairfax Connector, the county’s public bus system, welcomed its first electric buses in September, and the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services added an electric trash truck in August.

Late last year, the county launched a Climate Action Dashboard to keep track of its progress on various efforts to combat climate change. The transportation portion of the dashboard indicates that the county government has acquired 224 hybrid and 50 fully electric vehicles, putting it just 1.5% of the way to its goal of completely transitioning in just over a decade.

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