Federal program to help U.S. school, transit bus fleets with electrification plans

To help address challenges transit and school bus fleet managers have in planning for and deploying zero-emission fleets, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently announced the Clean Bus Planning Awards (CBPA) program. NREL said it is managing the $5 million program, which will provide U.S. school and transit fleets with free technical assistance to create comprehensive and customized bus electrification plans. The program is funded by the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation (Joint Office).

Students from the Lincoln Street Elementary School and Worcester Technical High School in Worcester, Mass., arrive by electric school bus on March 4, 2024, to celebrate Worcester Public Schools’ being awarded a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to purchase 15 electric school buses. (Photo: USA Today Network via Reuters Connect)

The bus fleet electrification process can include in-depth feasibility studies of technology and financing options, a staggered introduction of buses and infrastructure upgrades and continued performance analysis, NREL said. It can take several years, the organization added, and can be intimidating for fleet managers who lack support and resources. The CBPA program is intended to help managers create step-by-step plans to transition to zero-emission buses and offer optional fleet deployment assistance that fills the gap between planning and implementation.

“The CBPA program meets fleets wherever they are at in the planning process and helps make the overwhelming task of electrification feasible by providing plans that are tailored to the unique needs and requirements of each fleet,” said NREL’s Abby Brown, senior researcher and Joint Office technical assistance lead.

Mike Jones, CBPA program lead, said via email that participating bus fleets could be better prepared to apply for grants.

“This program aims to set bus fleets up for success when pursuing federal funding for bus electrification,” he said, “by helping them hit milestones required by programs like the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus (CSB) Program and the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Low or No Emission (Low-No) Grant Program. For example, the EPA CSB grant program favors applicants that convey a cohesive project approach that factors into a sustainable overall deployment strategy. By participating in CBPA, fleets will develop such a strategy.

“In addition, transition planning can help fleets build a plan that’s optimized, cost-effective and non-disruptive, helping fleets secure funding and later prepare for successful deployment.”

The application period for assistance and planning opened on February 20. Jones said there is no application deadline at the present time. On its website, the Joint Office said NREL will review applications on a rolling basis, giving fleet managers an opportunity to fully understand their needs before applying for support.

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