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News / Clark County News

EPA grants Woodland Public Schools $2.8M to buy electric school buses

Superintendent says the grant is the first step toward modifying its fleet

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 31, 2024, 6:03am

Woodland Public Schools received a $2.8 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to replace 14 aging diesel school buses with electric school buses, according to a news release from Sen. Patty Murray’s office.

Woodland is the manager of a transportation cooperative, KWRL Transportation, which also provides busing services to the Kalama, La Center and Ridgefield school districts. Altogether, KWRL maintains a fleet of 120 buses.

The funding is one piece of more than $24 million allocated for electric school buses to more than a dozen districts across the state as part of the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program. The program has awarded about $3 billion to replace buses at more than 1,000 schools nationwide since 2023.

Woodland Superintendent Michael Green said the grant funding is only the first step toward modifying its bus fleet, but when completed, it will be a great way to save money and help lower emissions in its communities. Green estimated that between costs for fuel and maintenance, each bus could save KWRL about $10,000 per year.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the grant,” said Green, who is set to retire at the end of this school year. “Right now, we are in the process of analyzing the finances around it because one of the big impacts up front is going to be infrastructure costs.”

A long-term project

Shannon Barnett, Woodland’s transportation director who oversees KWRL, spoke about some of those immediate infrastructure costs. The big key, both he and Green said, will be adding several new charging stations around KWRL’s service area.

The typical charging station for a personal electric vehicle cannot support an electric school bus.

“I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of the electrification industry to study it before I ever had to get my hands on it,” Barnett said. “The (post-pandemic) market is tough. There’s still a lot of hoops to jump through.”

It will likely take about two years to assess where these stations might need to be located and how much they’ll cost. In short: North Clark County residents shouldn’t expect to see electric school buses on the road for at least a few years.

Thankfully, Barnett said, the districts have pooled enough savings for big projects like this that there won’t be a need for a bond or levy to pay for it.

Barnett said the buses will be a great addition to KWRL’s capacity, but he cautioned they will likely only be best used for shorter, local routes. Long-distance, extracurricular trips — such as for football games in Forks — will still require diesel buses.

An electric vehicle owner himself, Barnett said he’d like to see lawmakers make sure enough money is being put into fortifying statewide charging capacities so public electric vehicles can be more easily adopted.

“I’m cognizant of the big picture direction that we’re going in,” Barnett said. “But regionally, I think we need to expand our grid if we want to support this.”