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Cheatham County eyes grant for electric school buses

Electric school buses could start rolling down the road in Cheatham County in the not-too-distant future, if the county is awarded a grant from the federal government.

School officials are considering applying for a $5 million grant to buy 15 electric school buses from a program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021. That law authorized $18 billion for vehicle electrification projects.

“It’s something worth exploring,” said Calton Blacker, director of transportation and maintenance for the Cheatham County Board of Education.

Cheatham County School Board Vice Chair John Patrick, left, and Calton Blacker, the school system's director of transportation / Kent Hoover

Blacker spoke at a June 22 public forum sponsored by Shine on Cheatham, an organization that promotes the use of solar power. He and school board Vice Chair John Patrick outlined various incentives for clean energy and energy efficiency projects that were included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. If these incentives are fully used, carbon emissions in the U.S. would drop dramatically, Patrick said.

The incentives also could help homeowners save money. Tax credits are available through 2032 for everything from rooftop solar panels to heat pumps, as well as electric vehicles and EV home chargers.

Schools are big energy users, and Cheatham County already has taken steps to make their school buildings more energy efficient. In 2017, for example, it spent $1.7 million to install LED lighting in its schools. These more efficient lights have saved the school system a lot of money, Blacker said.

Electric school buses would lower fuel costs and maintenance costs, as well as help the environment by reducing carbon emissions, Blacker said. Electric buses would fit many of the Cheatham County school system’s routes, he said.

The problem is that a new electric school bus costs $375,000, compared with $132,000 for a new diesel school bus. That’s why grants are key to making the switch from diesel. Even if the county is awarded the grant, most of its school bus fleet would remain diesel for now.

Electric school buses should get cheaper in the future as new battery technologies are developed.

“This is moving at a very, very fast rate,” Blacker said.



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