Hello valiant readers. After receiving a lot of great responses from experts, environmentalists, and many other concerned citizens, I’ve decided to write a second article on electric school buses.
I start with a clarification. In my last article when I quoted $85,000 for a bus, I was considering an ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) based bus. It’s true electric buses cost more, but their increased cost is easily covered by the reduced cost of maintenance, greatly reduced cost of fuel, and of course by helping avert an environmental catastrophe that already unnecessarily claims 5 million lives a year and causes over two trillion dollars in damage. For example, the average cost per gallon for charging a bus is about $1 per gallon, but diesel is currently around $4 per gallon. I would suggest that every gallon of diesel should have an additional 38 cents per gallon environmental damage tax attached to it. These costs will only go up as we can expect the cost of fossil fuels to continue to rise.
So let’s start by recalculating the cost of diesel buses vs. electric buses. I have found the price range of electric school buses to be in the $230,000 to $400,000 range. For this discussion, let’s use an average of $300,000. So, with the new pricing, just replacing the 71 buses we have will cost $21,300,000 (About 1/5th the cost of the new high school). With the national school bus fleet nearing 500,000 vehicles, the cost to replace all of them with electric buses is about $150,000,000,000. So unfortunately, only about 0.35% of the infrastructure bill is slated for school bus replacement.
Sadly, in the face of this enormous shortfall, Bellingham Public Schools missed a big opportunity to get FREE ELECTRIC SCHOOL BUSES. As part of the Volkswagen emissions scandal Washington state was awarded $141 million for clean transportation. In fact, 24 other Washington school districts applied for, and are receiving, about 40 electric buses for free. Even worse, as far as we can tell, Whatcom County Schools and BPS didn’t even apply because they were, both literally and figuratively, asleep at the wheel, even though Bellingham Public Schools Director of Facilities and Sustainability Mark Peterson is specifically employed to look out for these opportunities.
I’ve been talking to Superintendent Greg Baker for years about environmental concerns ranging from using Linux to extend the lifespan of their computers, to getting laptops without sealed batteries that are designed to be repaired, to electric buses, to heat pumps and solar panels for new and remodel construction. Greg has ignored it all, or pushed it to Assistant Superintendent Jay Jordan who, although personally interested in the topics, is obviously not allowed to take any real action since he works for Greg.
I have repeatedly requested that our administrators, including members of the new Facilities Advisory Board, make some real commitments. BPS should be targeting replacement of our diesel buses and upgrading all of its buildings to meet the LEED Gold Standard by 2025. But except for a few token improvements that will be in my buildings’ article, the truth is that no real environmental commitments have been made by BPS.
Yet behind closed doors, Greg and the school board are still ignoring the environment and signing huge checks over to predatory developers to build new, unnecessary buildings that don’t even have heat pumps. It’s a significant oversight since many environmental upgrades, including heat pumps, are easiest and most cost effective to install as a building is built.
But BPS has been learning…to follow in the well-worn footsteps of Bellingham City Hall. As such, we can anticipate BPS will respond to this article not with real answers, or responding to direct questions, or producing documents, or making any concrete commitments or policy changes, but by hiring an expensive PR firm and pumping out 50,000 glossy flyers about what a great job they’re doing, instead of actually improving anything. In fact, BPS is now doing the same things City Hall does when they want to hide something: not responding to requests for simple information and forcing the public to go through lengthy records requests processes to get even the most basic questions answered. If that doesn’t work, they ask you to take a phone call, where they will pretend to be working on the issue, but ultimately do nothing. After all, phone calls are a way for the administration to make sure nothing is put in writing, and no real commitments are made, while giving them plausible deniability. These phony calls also allow them to appear to be working on issues when ultimately, they’re not.
By way of comparison, here is how the much more transparent, professional, Everett School District responded to virtually the same questions about their plans for electric buses.
Everett Public Schools contracts with Durham for school bus service and at this time, there are no electric school busses (sic) in the fleet.
And, there is a demo solar panel at Cedar Wood Elementary, but at this time, no other schools have solar panels.
Have a great day.”
While I’m not thrilled that Everett SD isn’t taking climate change seriously either, I am much more impressed with their rapid, open, honest and transparent response to the same questions that BPS received. I guess Everett SD believes their taxpayers actually deserve a response when they ask a reasonable question. You know, since the taxpayers are paying for everything and technically own all of the equipment at the schools.
So the schools, and City Hall, continue trying to make it hard to get information and refuse to commit to anything that will make a significant environmental difference, all while pretending to care. We are in the same situation, on a smaller scale, as the Climate Change Conference, COP26. Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist, referred to it as just another “greenwashing failure.”
So here’s an idea:
Do we really need a separate BPS administration? Why not have a county-wide system? After all, Bellingham is part of the county, why have two sets of overpaid administrations that do nothing, when we could have one? And, by extension, why do we have a separate city government? Again, why have two sets of expensive, overpaid people intent on doing nothing and stopping progress during our species’ darkest hours? We could literally save the millions of dollars we need to upgrade our buildings to the LEED Gold standard and replace our diesel buses with electric ones if we just got rid of redundant, high-level administrators who are afraid to make decisions anyway.
I am amassing data on the many opportunities our schools have missed when addressing the environment in our school buildings. Thanks again to all of the amazing citizens who helped me gather the data I needed for these and many other articles. Tom and fellow writer Alex McLean especially, you are fantastic people. Alex, I really wish you were on the school board. I know you ran.