A U.S. EPA Region 9 unveiling on April 16 that showcased two new alternative-fuel school buses celebrated grant awards from the EPA’s Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) for upfits for three Arizona school districts.
DERA funding is available to school districts to cover the upfit to alternative fuel for buses they are already purchasing, said Colleen Crowninshield, manager of Pima Association of Governments’ Tucson Regional Clean Cities Program. Amphitheater School District, Marana Unified School District and Chandler Unified School District were the grant recipients and the funds covered the upfit of 15 total vehicles.
The Tucson Clean Cities Coalition has been applying for the funding for the last 10 years through Amphitheater School District, but had not received it until this year. The difference this time, Crowninshield said, was including Chandler Unified School District, which is located in a “non-attainment” region, an area that already has levels of particulate matter and/or ozone in the air that exceed federal standards.
The grant covered the purchase of two propane powered Type A wheelchair buses for Amphitheater. In addition, the district purchased 14 Thomas Built propane powered school buses through a school bond, comprised of five conventional buses and 10 Type A buses, said Marc Lappitt, director of transportation for Amphitheater Public Schools.
Chandler Unified was able to upfit 12 CNG Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX buses as a result of the grant, said David Maldonado Mayen, fleet supervisor for the district. The first 10 to be delivered went into service in September 2013 and the two 2015 models were put into service in January 2015.
“The oil change intervals are longer, due to a cleaner running engine,” Maldonado Mayen added.
With the grant, Marana was also able to cover the upfit of two Saf-T-Liner HDX buses, which are Marana’s first alternative-fuel buses, said Robert Hobbs, garage manager for Marana Unified School District.
One of the new buses was present at the unveiling, along with one of Amphitheater’s, and the district’s buses have been in service for about six months.
“An EPA grant came along at the right time, so we jumped on board with Colleen and ended up getting it,” Hobbs added. “Our cut of it was [about] $48,000. That pays the difference on diesel versus CNG so it gets you the CNG [bus] for the same price it would be for a diesel.”
Additionally, with a donation of a free fueling station with two FuelMaker refueling systems from the town of Marana, the district is looking into opening the station to the public. If that is successful, it will gradually convert its entire fleet to CNG, purchasing 40 more of the buses with bond funding. These new buses are helping test the waters for that venture, Hobbs said.
“The thing holding us back now is I can only [fuel] two buses with the FuelMakers I have now; I can’t expand until we go to the commercial site station,” Hobbs added. “We’ll see how this plays out and if we’re really going to make the big jump into alternative fuel.”
Each school district has also implemented an idle reduction program, which will help balance out the costs of the new vehicles, Crowninshield added.
Clean Cities Coalition is a public-private partnership run by the Department of Energy, with a mission of reducing dependence on petroleum through the deployment of alternative fuels and alternative-fuel vehicles.