by Elizabeth McGowan, Energy News Network
An ambitious measure to convert Virginia’s fleet of 17,000 diesel-powered school buses to quieter and cleaner electric models over a decade was praised by health and environmental advocates when it passed the General Assembly at the end of February.
But transitioning from yellow to green is expensive. And that hefty price tag became more daunting when House Bill 2118, signed into law by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, was left unfunded.
Still, proponents of a bill that drew bipartisan support are optimistic that they can figure out how to tap into state, federal or even private dollars to ensure that fleet turnover is executed in a speedy and equitable fashion.
The bill that became law was stripped of its original funding source, a tax on dyed diesel fuel, which is used in farm machinery and other non-highway vehicles. The substitute version creates a grant fund and directs the state Department of Environmental Quality to lead a workgroup to figure out the details.
While that’s being hashed out, supporters point to other options. For example, $10 million in grants are now available from the DEQ via the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust. Observers are also abuzz with the potential of a private-public partnership that their Maryland neighbor to the north, Montgomery County Public Schools, signed in February with Massachusetts-based Highland Electric Transportation.
Federal money also could be on the table, depending on how Congress shapes the Biden administration’s new $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, into legislation.
Many Virginians find any of those options far more palatable than a continued, but thus far unsuccessful, legislative effort by Dominion Energy to fold electric school buses into the utility’s expansive vehicle-to-grid plans.
Blair St. Ledger-Olson leads transportation-related policy initiatives at Generation 180, founded in 2016 as a nationwide organization to equip individuals and communities to play a