MARION, Ky. — A local school district has saved over $63,000 in two years by switching more than one-third of its school buses from diesel to propane, according to a Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) case study.
As budget cuts increased, Crittenden County School District looked for ways to cut costs without eliminating student services. District officials identified fuel costs as a possible area for potential savings, and in 2014, Crittenden County joined a statewide pilot program with the Kentucky Department of Education to test propane school buses.
“Right off the bat, the board of education was considering all options for saving money,” said Wayne Winters, Crittenden County School District’s lead vehicle mechanic. “And that was the number one reason for considering propane.”
During the pilot, Crittenden County’s first propane school bus saved the district more than $5,500 on fuel costs in its first year of operation.
In 2015 and 2016, the district saw a combined savings of more than $63,000 on fuel costs operating propane school buses, and Winters said the savings will increase as the district continues to phase out diesel buses from the fleet. The district also participated in several grants through the Kentucky Division for Air Quality and the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition, which helped reduce purchase costs as it transitioned to more propane buses.
As of 2017, 11 of Crittenden County’s school buses are powered by propane gas, and the district has been awarded the “Greenest Public School Fleet” by the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition four years running, according to PERC.
The propane buses are quieter than diesel buses and heat up faster during the winter without requiring time spent plugged in to electric block heaters, according to PERC. For the more than 25 diesel buses that are still used by the district, those costs come to an additional $800 to $1,200 on the district’s electric bill during winter months.
In the district’s maintenance facilities, Winters has seen a considerable advantage with changing oil on the propane buses. District policy requires changing the oil in the buses every 6,000 miles. It costs around $140 to change out 32 quarts of oil and a couple filters in the diesel buses. The costs for propane are less than a quarter of that because Winters only needs to change out one filter and seven quarts of oil every 6,000 miles.
Switching to Propane
To make the transition from diesel- to propane-powered buses, Crittenden County School District partnered with a local propane retailer that took on the refueling infrastructure upgrades at no cost to the district. As the district’s propane fleet grew, the refueling infrastructure was upgraded to keep up with the district’s needs. A 500-gallon tank was swapped out for a 1,500-gallon tank. The retailer also provided refueling training to the bus drivers and maintenance crew.
In addition to the financial advantages the district received, Winters also realized that it would see a reduction in emissions with the propane buses.
The buses offer a 92% reduction of NOx emissions when replacing pre-2007 diesel buses, according to PERC.