Education

New electric school buses lose up to 80% range in winter

Photo Credit: Tom Fisher, VEIC

by Michael Bielawski

New electric school buses cost roughly double their diesel-powered counterparts upfront and they lose up to 80% of their range in cold temperatures, the Vermont Electric School and Transit Bus Pilot Program Report indicates.

Nonetheless, the report by the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) indicates that there is serious consideration to move forward.

“It is feasible to operate electric school and transit buses in Vermont even in cold weather and varied terrain,” the report claims.

Some “failed to perform at all” in cold weather

Some brands – especially the Blue Bird model – seemed to have more serious issues than others with performance in cold temperatures. All of them had issues with charging equipment.

It states, “Some brands performed well in winter, and some failed to perform at all. Among the buses that were in-service in the winter, some buses performed better than others. Charging equipment performance remained a persistent issue for all sites year-round.”

Some buses lost 80% of their range.

“As temperatures dropped, vehicle range reduced in a relatively linear manner. At zero degrees Fahrenheit, the Lion bus ranges had dropped off by 30-40% of the nominal range advertised by the manufacturer. For Blue Bird buses, the range loss at zero degrees was closer to 80%,” it states.

Big upfront costs

The report states that currently, the overall cost of investing in EV buses is prohibitive. It states, “Until pricing comes down, few districts will be able to enter this market without significant financial assistance.”

This is consistent with data from a 2022 report by EmpireCenter.org indicating that for New York City to switch its school bus fleet from diesel to electric meant paying sometimes more than a quarter million dollars in additional upfront costs per bus.

It states, “Electric school buses have upfront costs more than double that of diesel buses. The electric buses cost around $300,000 to $400,000 with similarly sized diesel buses going for around $125,000 to $150,000.”

That’s not including new infrastructure costs which are another additional $10,000 to $30,000 per bus.

By comparison, in the VEIC report, six buses were used across three districts. The cost per bus ranged from $336,320 to $838,974 per bus.

Electricity is not always cheaper than fuel

The report touts cost savings in terms of fuel purchases after the EVs are adopted.

“While electric buses still cost considerably more than their diesel counterparts,

the pilot aimed to measure what fuel and maintenance cost savings might begin to offset that upfront capital cost increase,” it states.

However, the notion that fueling EV vehicles is always cheaper than their gas-powered counterparts is not always true. Moneywise.com offers details.

“High electricity prices — combined with softer gas prices — made EVs more expensive to fuel than gas-powered cars at the end of 2022, according to a report published in January by the Anderson Economic Group,” it states.

Another key finding from the VEIC report was that the EV buses require additional heating sources – including carbon-intensive diesel-fired heaters. They need, “Continuous thermal management, sometimes provided by auxiliary diesel heat, markedly aided the drivetrain on electric buses.”

All Diesel school buses being replaced by new E-buses under the pilot program must be demolished. Photo Credit: Tom Fisher, VEIC

Cart before the horse?

The report says that a requirement to participate in this study was to commit to purchasing the vehicles.

It states, “VEIC designed and implemented a two-step competitive application process to identify project partners that met all requirements and priorities established in the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust and in Vermont’s Beneficiary Mitigation Plan.”

It continues that everyone involved must write letters demonstrating their commitment. Requirement #3 is to, “Demonstrate all involved personnel, including management, are supportive of electric bus deployment, as evidenced by letters of support.”

One clear demonstration of their commitment is the agreement to destroy the diesel buses they are replacing. A team of observers personally witness the demolition to record that it took place.

The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle

27 replies »

  1. So, is the next step to change the school calendar? April to December, with the 3 coldest months as vacation?

    • That would actually make more sense than the model we follow now, which is based on a very old agricultural model in which children were needed on the farm as labor in the warm months.

      • Absolutely no such thing as an Electric Bus, (or for that matter an electric car or electric truck). These vehicles run on a battery that is charged by electricity. To call them electric, would be like calling your household flashlight and electric flashlight. So where does our electricity come from ? The major majority of ways to make electricity comes from fossil fuels. Diesel, and coal mostly. Very very little from solar, wind, and water. We use to have nuclear power, but that plant in Vermont was dismantled. So regardless where we plug these useless and substandard buses into, when we look back at the electric origin, we run into carbon based, fossil fuels. That is the real truth about electric vehicles, (cars, trucks, or buses). What happens to these new over priced buses when the battery no longer takes a charge ? New batteries for small EV cars cost $15,000 – $20,000. I can’t imagine the cost for new batteries for an EV bus. Anything that cost 2X as much, should out perform what we use now. However, there is no added benefit from an EV bus ; not for the tax payers, and certainly not for the riders, our children.

    • Check out your friends in VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest research Group).

      https://www.vpirg.org/issues/clean-energy/vpirg-testimony-to-joint-energy-on-volkswagen-settlement-funds/

      You know, the folks who lobbied the legislature to subsidize solar power so its top two members could privately start SunCommon and then sell it for $40 Million.

      Who knows who’s going to profit from this fiasco. Certainly not Vermont’s electric rate payers or its taxpayers. And definitely not ‘the environment’.

      https://clintel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WCD-version-081423.pdf

      “… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience……To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” – – C. S. Lewis

    • https://www.vpirg.org/issues/clean-energy/vpirg-testimony-to-joint-energy-on-volkswagen-settlement-funds/

      You know, the folks who lobbied the legislature to subsidize solar power so its top two members could privately start SunCommon and then sell it for $40 Million.

      Who knows who’s going to profit from this fiasco. Certainly not Vermont’s electric rate payers or its property taxpayers. And definitely not ‘the environment’.

      https://clintel.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/WCD-version-081423.pdf

      “… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience……To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.” – – C. S. Lewis

    • Check out your friends in VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest Research Group).

      You know, the folks who lobbied the legislature to subsidize solar power so its top two members could privately start SunCommon and then sell it for $40 Million.

      Who knows who’s going to profit from this fiasco. Certainly not Vermont’s electric rate payers or its property taxpayers. And definitely not ‘the environment’.

  2. So we purchase electric school busses and gain another reason to close our schools in cold weather. Now that’s progress.

  3. I cannot decide what aspect of this program is my favorite: 1) that the new buses cost double diesel buses; 2) that the buses they are replacing must be destroyed rather than sold to other districts in the country; or 3) that they still have to have additional heat sources such as diesel-powered heaters.

  4. When are people going to realise that electricity is not generated carbon free by any remote stretch of their imagination? Electric heat and transportation has many issues to solve in a climate like Vermont’s and taxpayers should not be asked to fund experiments that are doomed to fail before they start! On top of it, the taxpayer isn’t allowed to recoup even a tiny portion of the up-front costs for this “experiment” due to virtue signaling mandated destruction of the old bus!

  5. These are the crap cars the political elites want us in. I’m sure they will still have the dependable gas SUVs to get to their important meetings in Montpelier. Not so for the little people.

  6. Follow the money, and the compromised political figures, behind the changes, then cross check the stock buys of all elected, and non elected offici,als and their family/friends, and see who benifits the most by these changes.

    FOLLOW THE MONEY

  7. Saying there is 80% less range available from a battery powered vehicle in the winter is like saying you get less gas mileage going up hill than going down. Assuming an average summer temperature of 68 F., for each drop in core battery temperature of 18 degrees, the chemical reaction rates required to charge and discharge batteries are roughly cut in half. Add to that the massive amount of electricity that has to be obtained from the battery to just heat the bus during the winter. School busses making regular runs however don’t need a whole lot of range capacity in miles. Still, at the present level of technology and given the projected long range scarcity of the raw materials required to make them, batteries are not at a point where increasing production of them is going to appreciably lower their cost. In fact, cost will likely go in the opposite direction.
    It was not the time for govt to bet on battery powered vehicles, it would seem. I keep thinking that in order to decrease the amount of fossil fuel consumption, that practically every available dollar ought to go toward the thermal insulation of buildings.

  8. Plus in the winter the electric grid is supported by burning diesel. Ask VT Fuel Dealers Assoc how their members kept the grid from collapsing by supplying 30k gaps per hour

  9. The Anderson Economic Group report referenced above is based only on data from Michigan. Why is Michael Bielawski leaving that fact out of this article? After the failure of True North Reports, Bielawski now brings his extremely biased and dubious “reporting” to this website.

    The only question now is, without Lenore, who’s paying his salary to write these articles?

    Hopefully the VT Daily Chronicle commenter sleuths will get to the bottom of this…

    • Is the Michigan data not sufficiently representative of those areas of the U.S. that have cold winters? If so, what data is exclusive only to Michigan, and misrepresentative, for example, of the Vermont or New Hampshire EV market?

      Doesn’t Mr. Bielawski’s citation of the Empire Center report on New York’s EV use data make his report then even more reasonable? Did you not notice Mr. Bielawski’s reference to the Moneywise article on the same topic?

      So… why do you assert that Mr. Bielawski’s failure to point out that the Anderson report represents Michigan data to be ‘extremely biased and dubious “reporting”?

      Is it unreasonable then for us to make a similar assertion? That, if anything, it is your comment that is extremely biased and dubious, and not Mr. Bielawski’s reporting.

      ‘The lady doth protest too much methinks.’

      • It appears clear that “Chris M” would reject anything written by Mr. Bielawski as ‘extremely biased and dubious’. “Chris M” is unable to see the information provided in the article- only some sort of intense dislike for the author and the topic. For the rest of us, the article become a report card on current EV technology
        and the clear fact that in the battle of platitudes and physical science, science remains undefeated. Unfortunately, it requires copious amounts of our taxpayer dollars to show the folly of current EV technology.

      • Perhaps Chris M is a member of, or somewhow related to, VPIRG, or some other special interest group benefiting from the electrification movement.

        Again, who knows who’s going to profit from this fiasco. Certainly not Vermont’s electric rate payers or its property taxpayers. And definitely not ‘the environment’.

        I wonder if we’ll hear from him in this regard.

    • Our politicians use UN data without scrutiny or analysis. Why not use data from Michigan? I trust Michigan far more than I trust a global entity who claims to “own the science on climate change”. An organization attempting a power grab of all global resources.

  10. “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” ~ Thomas Sowell

  11. Once again, the legendary crafty Vermonters got snookered. Or were they know it all flatlanders. I tell you, those flatlanders have destroyed this state, never vote for one(or democrat).

  12. Several years ago the Chittenden County Transportation Authority got 5 electric buses from the DOT. On our inaugural run with Governor Kunin and Senator Leahy from our bus barn to Church Street in Burlington, the bus broke down. We called for back-up and made it to our destination. We only kept the buses a short time because when cold weather arrived their travel range decreased and with the hills in Burlington, they just weren’t reliable. The resurgence of electric buses today seems like a fantasy that feels good but not practical nor cost effective.

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