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25 Michigan school districts cruise into academic year with new electric buses

EGLE Director Phil Roos and others with the Pellston School District's new electric school bus with the Mackinac Bridge in the background.
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
Federal and state officials including, EGLE director Phil Roos and EPA regional administrator Debra Shore, visited Pellston Sept. 8 to highlight the Pellston School District’s new electric bus fleet.

Michigan school districts received $54 million in federal funding last fall to electrify school buses. With the start of the academic year, EV buses are hitting the roads across 25 school districts.

Pellston Public Schools in Emmet County welcomed four new EV buses earlier this year, replacing 80% of the school's old diesel fleet.

Pellston superintendent Stephen Seelye said the buses drive smoothly and quietly, so much so, they play the classic ice cream truck song to alert students of their arrival. He said the district may eventually switch the music to the school fight song.

"When I stand out and greet our kids off the bus in the morning, we have five bus routes and when the four electric buses roll by playing their music, it makes me smile and lightens my mood," Seelye said. "When the diesel bus rolls by, it's way louder than the music."

The district received $1.6 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make the switch. Seelye estimates the buses are saving the school district $40-50,000 a year in fuel and maintenance costs.

"They're like a giant electric golf cart..." Seelye said. "When you go down a hill or when you're coming to a stop, you don't apply brakes. You just take your foot off the gas and the regenerative braking recharges the battery and slows you down."

State and federal partners celebrated the EPA's Clean School Bus program last week by driving a Pellston bus across the Mackinac Bridge. The program has brought 138 electric buses to Michigan so far and $125 million in state funding for future EV infrastructure projects.

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.