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On August 26, 2020, Washington County Schools (WCS) celebrated the addition of five new propane-powered school buses to their fleet through a ribbon-cutting and “big check” presentation event. In late 2019, WCS applied for and won $102,500 towards their efforts to replace older diesel buses through the Tennessee’s “Reducing Diesel Emissions for a Healthier Tennessee” (RDE4HT) Rebate Program. The five new propane buses were received in June and July, checked and tested by WCS transportation staff and started use in recent weeks. Jonathan Overly of the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition served as the event emcee.
Several community leaders spoke at the event including:
- Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy
- Washington County Commissioner Jodi Jones
- Director of WCS Dr. William Flanary
- Assistant Director of WCS Dr. Jarrod Adams
- Central States Bus Sales Tennessee District General Manager Chuck Harvill
Dr. Flanary said, “This is part of our overall plan to both reduce operating costs here in Washington County Schools and to reduce our carbon footprint. This project is good for students, good for our community, and good for the bottom line.” He added, “I learned that the diesel school buses that you see around our lot here have over $20,000 worth of parts (per bus) that a propane bus does not. Those are parts that we will not have to repair or replace over the 16-year life of these propane buses, so the math adds up quickly – we will start saving money almost immediately.”
Commissioner Jones stated, “Buses are necessities, but they are also places of opportunity.” She then referenced a 2019 study that shows improved student health and test scores where cleaner, propane-powered school buses are in use. “While this is just one study, a body of research on bus and classroom air quality is beginning to point to an opportunity to improve student health and well-being,” Jones said. “I am super-excited to see WCS grabbing that opportunity and running.”
The new buses are Blue Bird “Vision” (type C, front nose) buses and are dedicated –meaning they only run on propane, which when used in vehicles as fuel is also called “autogas.” Blue Bird’s propane-powered bus partner ROUSH CleanTech designed the propane systems for the buses. The systems encompass everything from fuel storage and management to the all-important safety systems.
During the event, Chuck Harvill of Central States Bus Sales said “[These propane buses] are cleaner, cheaper and easier. We applaud WCS looking at alternatives that provide cleaner transportation that’s healthier for the children on the bus, and cheaper so they can put more money back in classrooms and to teachers, and easier so bus transportation staff can focus their time on getting the kids to school safely, not having to worry about maintenance headaches.”
After the ribbon cutting and check presentation, attendees and the media were provided an opportunity to see unique properties of the school buses and tour the propane refueling infrastructure.
In addition to the five propane school buses, the school system has won funding to replace another older diesel bus with a new all-electric one that should be received in September. WCS is interested in trying several new bus technologies to assess their operability, potential cost savings and emissions reductions.
The RDE4HT Rebate Program is state EPA funding that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) manages and contracts with the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition to operate and oversee. The Rebate Program releases a Request for Proposals in October each year prioritizing school districts for bus replacements, with an emphasis on alternative fuel buses over new diesel buses (although districts can also pursue new diesel buses).
As Dr. Flanary noted during the event, there are roughly 120 propane school buses in operation in Tennessee. Out of the 95 counties in Tennessee and roughly 150 school districts, there are now almost 15 districts that have built or are building alternative fuels programs utilizing propane autogas and other alternative fuels. Many districts are recognizing the cost savings and other advantages that come with switching to propane-powered school buses.
For more information about Washington County Schools’ Alternative Fuels Program, contact Dr. Jarrod Adams at [email protected].
For more information about the RDE4HT Rebate Program, contact Jonathan Overly at [email protected].
About Washington County Schools – https://www.wcde.org: Washington County Schools provides educational experiences through which every student will be prepared for their next steps in education and life, and is comprised of 16 schools serving Pre-K through grade 12 with 9,055 students and 580 teachers. Washington County Schools vision is that all students will have equitable access to high quality programs of instruction and support.
About the “Reducing Diesel Emissions for a Healthier Tennessee” Rebate Program – http://www.rde4ht.info: The RDE4HT Rebate Program is an annual funding mechanism that is powered by State EPA funding. The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation contracts with ETCleanFuels who developed and manages the funding program each year. Roughly one quarter of a million dollars are available each year and a Request for Proposals is released in October annually. Any fleet that operates in Tennessee can apply, and alternative fuel vehicles are prioritized over new diesel vehicles. Since inception, the RDE Program has helped take 90 older diesel school buses, refuse trucks, and other types of work trucks out of service and replace them with cleaner vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, propane or electricity.
About East Tennessee Clean Fuels – http://www.TNCleanFuels.org: The East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition works proactively with many different fleets and partners in the state to reduce dependence on petroleum and improve air quality and sustainability. It is a voluntary effort built on partners working together to create positive changes for Tennesseans. ETCleanFuels partners regularly with the Middle-West Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition and the two serve all Tennesseans via direct assistance, educational events, and funding sources and guidance that can help them learn about alternative fuels and make the switch for their own bottom line and for a healthier Tennessee.