Now there’s some money to go with state legislation designed to help school districts electrify school buses, but it’s far less than what advocates fought for.
Several environmental groups called for $3 million to $4 million to be set aside from the legislatively created Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Demonstration (EVID) program to cover the cost of purchasing and maintaining about 10 to 12 electric school buses. The electric bus initiative is designed to collect enough data on the health and economic benefits of electric transportation to justify broader fleet replacements.
But the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) issued an order Wednesday to set aside just $1.5 million from the EVID program for school districts to invest in electric school buses, enough for maybe 5 buses.
“We thank the Public Utilities Commission for recognizing this important need. However, we are disappointed that only $1.5 million was left available, at the same time that we learn NV Energy is offering million-dollar handouts so its commercial customers stay in its service,” said Annette Magnus the executive director of Battle Born Progress in a statement. Magnus was referring to the utility’s contracts, recently reported by the Nevada Independent, to pay the City of Henderson and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority nearly $1 million annually to remain NV Energy customers.
“Everyday ratepayers deserve a chance to access clean energy and electric vehicles, too, and we call on NV Energy to dedicate additional funds so that Nevada can begin replacing all dirty diesel school buses,” Magnus said.
“NV Energy supported the legislative effort to dedicate funding to electric school buses,” a company spokesperson said.
Andy Maggi the executive director of the Nevada Conservation League was similarly disappointed with the level of funding for the bus trial, saying in a statement, “While we wish more funds were available, we recognize that the EVID program had numerous requests for funding and that NV Energy needed to account for energy storage expenditures it had not previously included in its plans.”
“We encourage all stakeholders to join community partners who have been leading this fight in finding a clean bus solution for Nevada’s children,” Maggi said.
In May, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed Senate Bill 299 allowing funds from the EVID program— which is funded by NV Energy customers, via a fraction of a percent ratepayers are charged per kilowatt hour, and is administered by NV Energy — to be used by school districts to cover up to 75 percent of the up front cost of electric school buses and related charging infrastructure.
The bill made it through the Legislature with broad bipartisan support, passing the Senate with zero opposition before passing the Assembly with only one Republican, Robin Titus, voting in opposition.
The $1.5 million set aside was authorized the same day the PUCN unanimously approved NV Energy’s annual plan, which directs NV Energy to use the custom grant component of the EVID program to fund electric school buses. The bus initiative was not part of NV Energy’s annual plan originally, since the plan was filed in February— a month before the bus bill was introduced in the Legislature.
While five electric school buses may be a small dent in the states 2,789 diesel powered school fleet, Cameron Dyer, clean energy program staff attorney for the Western Resource Advocates, says not all is lost and that it’s a “step in the right direction.”
“We were looking for three to four million dollars,” Dyer said. “But that wasn’t necessarily three to four million dollars in the immediate year or next month. What we wanted to see is three to four million in a pilot project over the next couple years,” adding that he hopes to see an actual full pilot program to electrify school buses launched by NV Energy next year.
Rudy Zamora the Program Director for Chispa Nevada, an organization that has heavily campaigned for electric school buses, likewise sees the $1.5 million allocation as a stepping stone to a larger investment.
“The $1.5 million is not the amount we asked for originally but it gives us the opportunity to start a pilot program,” Zamora said. “The idea is to continue to work with school districts and have conversations with the transportation heads in not only the Washoe and Clark County but throughout the other 15 school districts across the state.”
But additional funding the buses faces competing interests, including the Governors Office of Energy and Tesla, which have been vying for EVID’s remaining $6 million in funds. Neither were granted EVID allocations in the current plan.
Additional EVID funds are however being allocated to electrify Nevada’s highways with charging stations and subsidize and promote workplace charging stations, fleet charging stations and public charging stations in communal spaces like businesses, schools and nonprofits.
A total of 165,422 students took the school bus daily during the 2017-2018 school year, according to the Nevada Department of Education. Zamora said those children are at more risk of breathing polluted air and developing asthma or other health issues due to the diesel fuel traditional school buses use.
One basin in Nevada is listed as an “ozone marginal non attainment area,” meaning it does not meet EPA national ambient air quality standards for ozone. That basin is home to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Area, where 3 out of 4 Nevadan’s live.
“A lot of that ozone is caused by interstate transport from California,” said Greg Lovato, the administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. “Health effects for ozone include asthma and a number of other ailments.”
Lovato said the most concrete action that can be taken to improve the basin’s air quality is “for federal vehicle admission standards to continue to be lowered.”
“Regulation of emissions from mobile sources is the key,” Lovato said.