Electric school bus legislation charges forward, school bus seat belt bill restrained

February 11, 2020

On February 10, the constitutional reading of SB 988 (Lucas) was dispensed by the Senate. This bill authorizes Dominion Energy to implement projects to encourage the proliferation of electric school buses and charging infrastructure to reduce the use of traditional diesel school buses and help with electric grid stabilization. This follows an announcement from Dominion Energy and Governor Ralph Northam last August for implementation of Phase 1 of a plan to bring 50 electric school buses to 16 localities within Dominion’s service area by the end of 2020.

This legislation would enable Phase 2 to proceed. This would expand the existing program to bring at least 1,000 additional electric school buses into operation by 2025, or approximately 10 percent of the total school bus fleet in Virginia. School divisions would be reimbursed for the purchase of the school buses and charging infrastructure. The electric school buses will serve as electric grid stabilizer by allowing the bus batteries to store and inject energy into the grid during periods of high demand when the buses are not being used for the transport of students. Dominion would be authorized to seek rate adjustments to cover the costs of implementing this program.

Dominion claims that the benefits to students and localities of using electric school buses include interior school bus air quality six times better than a traditional diesel-fueled bus, 60 percent reduced operation and maintenance costs to localities, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Buses purchased through this project will be equipped with lap-and-shoulder belt occupant restraint systems, consistent with recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board. Though electric school buses and school buses equipped with shoulder restraints are generally more expensive to purchase than traditional school buses, Dominion has committed to offsetting the additional costs. Similar legislation is under consideration in the house.

VACo traditionally has expressed concern to perennial legislation that have mandated the purchase of school buses equipped with shoulder straps by local school divisions due to the unfunded mandate it would impose. HB15 (Krizek) would have required all new school bus purchases to include shoulder straps and the replacement of the existing school bus fleet by 2038, however the bill was left in the House Appropriations Committee.

Additional legislation seeks to address a related issue felt by communities across the Commonwealth, the difficulty of recruiting and retaining school bus drivers. Difficulty in this area leads to increased burdens on existing school division staff and longer ride times for students. HB 351 (Bell) / SB 324 (Deeds) require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to identify critical shortage areas of school bus drivers and report that information to the Virginia Retirement System and allows eligible retired drivers to return to work as school bus drivers and receive additional retirement benefits. This would be modeled on the existing K-12 critical shortage positions program.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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