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The big check

Holding the big check, left to right, are HCS Transportation Supervisor Joseph Southern, Director of Schools Charlotte Mullins, and CTE Director and Grant Writer Jennifer Yount.

On October 7, 2020, Hancock County Schools (HCS) celebrated the addition of two new propane-powered school buses to their fleet through a ribbon-cutting and “big check” presentation event. In late 2019, HCS applied for and won $50,000 towards their efforts to replace older diesel buses through the Tennessee’s “Reducing Diesel Emissions for a Healthier Tennessee” (RDE4HT) Rebate Program. The new propane buses were received in early October by WCS transportation staff and will start being used next week.

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 (ETCleanFuels) to operate and oversee. The Rebate Program releases a Request for Proposals in October each year and as of 2019 prioritizes funding for new alternative-fuel school buses over all other types of vehicles.

Several community leaders and project partners spoke at the event including:

  • HCS Director of Schools Charlotte Mullins
  • TN Representative Gary Hicks (District 9)
  • HCS Transportation Supervisor Joseph Southern
  • Alliance AutoGas Representative Happy Fox
  • Central States Bus Sales East Tennessee Representative Steve Nixon
  • ETCleanFuels Director Jonathan Overly
Happy Fox speaks

Happy Fox of Alliance AutoGas speaks to attendees during the event.

Joseph Southern said, “With these funds, we have been able to grow our clean-fueled fleet and do our part to make a difference for our kids and our environment”. Representative Hicks said, “There’s been plenty of bad news in recent times, so it’s wonderful to hear some good news. I can’t begin to thank all of those involved who are helping change lives in Hancock County.”

Overly noted, “Hancock County is one of 11 federally designated economically distressed counties in Tennessee, and it is our (ETCleanFuels’) and TDEC’s sincerest pleasure to assist our distressed communities in Tennessee. When we provide assistance where it may be needed most and simultaneously help improve air quality and develop partnerships to drive alt-fuel use, that is one of the best win-win scenarios you can find.”

HCS is using school buses – and plans to use the new propane school buses – for providing students daily transportation to school. The buses are also being used to distribute food to some families while the students are away from school.

Steve Nixon discusses refueling

Steve Nixon of Central States Bus Sales explains some of the differences and benefits of fueling with propane autogas, including to Director of Schools Charlotte Mullins.

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 a vehicle 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, Steve Nixon of Central States Bus Sales said, “These propane buses are cleaner, safer and quieter solutions for today’s school bus fleet operators. We are thrilled to assist HCS in this transition that will help the fleet maintenance team, the bus drivers, and the kids who ride them.”

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 nearby propane refueling infrastructure that was installed by Blossman Gas. Happy Fox of Alliance AutoGas and Blossman Gas noted during the ribbon cutting that, “we are very pleased to be helping Hancock County with an opportunity to save money while protecting the health of their students. No alternative fuel compares to propane when discussing providing assistance to rural communities across our great country. It’s widely available and easy to setup refueling for large or small fleets.”

That bird is green

Joseph Southern and Ashely Hopkins of HCS point out that the bird on the bus is green denoting that it is a propane-powered school bus.

In addition to the two propane school buses added through the 2020 RDE4HT funding recently, HCS won funding from the TN VW Settlement for three propane school buses in 2019 and put those into service in early 2020, so the HCS fleet is now up to a total of five propane-powered buses. HCS Grant Writer Jennifer Yount noted during the event, “this puts us at roughly one-third of our school buses that are now running on propane.”

For more information about Hancock County Schools propane bus program, contact Joseph Southern at [email protected]For more information about the RDE4HT Rebate Program, contact Jonathan Overly at [email protected].

 

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About Hancock County Schools – http://hancockcountyschools.com: The mission of Hancock County Schools is to enable all students to excel in learning, become socially responsible, and become productive citizens in our community and society. We were pleased to recently be named an “Exemplary” School District and look forward to continuing our academic growth and other accomplishments in the future.

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.orgThe 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.