2021 | Schools

Quarter of MCPS buses to be electric by 2024

First 25 buses in operation next school year

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About a quarter of the MCPS bus fleet will be replaced with electric buses by 2024.

File photo

Over the next four years, Montgomery County Public Schools will switch some of its diesel buses to a fleet powered by electricity.

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Board of Education approved a $1.3 million annual contract to begin a phased move to electric buses beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

MSN reported on Tuesday morning that a spokeswoman for Advanced Energy Economy said the deal is “the largest municipal order of any kind for electric buses” across the country.

“There was some hope for a while we would be able to perhaps secure a very small number through maybe grant funds, but as time has gone on, we wanted to take a more ambitious approach,” said Associate Superintendent of Operations Essie McGuire.

The first 25 electric buses will be in operation to begin the 2020-21 academic year. One will operate in each school cluster.

An additional 61 electric buses will be added in the fall of 2022, and 120 will be added in each of the two following years. Each bus will have a 12-year “life” before needing replacement.

MCPS operates about 1,300 school buses total.

In September, Montgomery County deployed its first four electric Ride On buses. The goal is to eventually transition the entire fleet to all-electric buses, according to the county’s transportation director, Chris Conklin.

The school district will pay an annual fee to lease the buses from Highland Electric Transportation of Boston. Highland Electric will own and maintain the buses, train drivers and install charging equipment.

MCPS Director of Transportation Todd Watkins told the school board on Tuesday that by leasing the vehicles, the district will avoid the cost of purchasing new buses. The buses have historically been replaced on an annual, rotating schedule.

It will also save money on fuel. On a typical school day, the buses use approximately 17,000 gallons of diesel fuel, according to MCPS.

MCPS buses travel more than 112,000 miles on an average school day.

The new electric buses are expected to be charged overnight, when the demand for and cost of energy is low, then resell unused power from bus batteries back into the power grid when it is more valuable.

“If things are going well,” at the end of the four-year contract, Watkins said, it could be extended to move more of the MCPS fleet to electric buses.

For years, student activists have been pushing the school district to be more environmentally conscious, and to switch to electric buses.

Eleanor Clemans-Cope, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School who is a coordinator for student advocacy group Sunrise Movement Rockville, said the MCPS announcement is “a major win for students.

“This decision indicates that MCPS understands the climate crisis is urgent, catastrophic, and requires action from all levels of government, including theirs,” Clemans-Cope wrote in an email. “Now we demand that they follow through on what they have started by switching to electric buses: we need schools to run on green energy and we need to educate students about the climate crisis.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com