Pullman’s next school bus will be the first zero-emission vehicle thanks to a state grant which covers the cost of the upgrade.

According to a news release from the Washington Department of Ecology, the Pullman School District will receive $275,000 to help purchase a new electric school bus and charging station. There is currently only one electric school bus operating in the entire state, according to an Ecology spokesman.

Joe Thornton, director of operations for Pullman schools, said while they are better for human health and the environment, electric buses are more than twice the cost of a new diesel bus, which is why they’re not a more common sight at state schools.

“Gas or diesel buses run somewhere between ($120,000) to $130,000 and we get most of ... that money back from the state over time under depreciation schedule payback,” Thornton said. “An electric bus is about $400,000, so without some help, we can’t afford them.”

Thornton said the bus would be ordered for delivery in the summer of 2021 — around the time the region’s new transportation center would be completed. He said this timing was intentional. Rather than installing new infrastructure to support a charging station at their existing facility, that hardware could be factored into the construction of the new transportation center, helping to lower the cost.

Ecology Spokesman Andrew Wineke said the money fueling the grants comes from a settlement with Volkswagen related the so-called “Emissionsgate” scandal. In 2015, the company installed software that allowed their vehicles to cheat on federal emissions tests prompting lawsuits both from the U.S. government as well as from individual states.

Between the state and the Federal Government, Wineke said Washington received a little more than $140 million which is earmarked exclusively for reducing air pollution.

“School buses are a great way to do that — school buses are one of the most common sources of diesel exhaust in our communities and of course, kids are riding these and kids are especially susceptible to diesel pollution,” he said. “We’ve done several rounds of grants — we’ve funded electric transit buses in many places across the state, including Spokane, but this was our first foray into electric school buses.”

Wineke pointed out the new buses would replace older diesel models that are likely not equipped with the emissions controls more modern buses have. He said the program will provide money for the purchase of 40 electric buses in districts throughout the state.

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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