Westerly schools looking to fill positions

WESTERLY — The School Committee is supporting plans to begin converting the district's fleet of buses from diesel to electric, thanks to significant grant funding from National Grid and the state Department of Environmental Management.

During its Aug. 25 meeting, the committee voted unanimously to authorize the use of $28,300 from its fund balance, or surplus, to be used toward the cost of purchasing two electric buses. The total cost of the buses is $706,000. The state Department of Emergency Management has grant funding of $317,700 available for the buses and the district has an additional $360,000 of capital funds available, according to a memorandum, from Cindy Kirchhoff, the district's director of finance and operations.

In July, the School Committee endorsed submission of an application to the DEM for grant funding. An application had previously been submitted to National Grid. Based on the district's original plan for acquiring three electric buses, it planned to apply to National Grid for $435,000 and to the DEM for $530,550.

The National Grid grant would cover 75% of the cost for chargers and the utility company would pay for all installation and infrastructure costs. The DEM funds, if approved, would cover 45% of the cost of the buses and 25% of the cost of chargers.

During the School Committee's Aug. 11 meeting, school officials noted that the town's newly adopted Comprehensive Plan cites converting to hybrid and fully electric school buses from diesel models as a means to accomplish energy goals set out in the plan.

According to a presentation by Susan Guarino, the district's transportation director, and Rudi Hauser III, the district's safety coordinator, conversion to electric buses will save the district in maintenance and fuel costs, reduce emissions, and provide new revenue through bidirectional technology that allows buses to charge during periods of inexpensive electricity and send power back during peak energy consumption times to stabilize the grid and reduce the risks of a power outage.

The district expects to earn up to $300 per kilowatt-hour, a rate that would be locked in for five years once the system goes online. The district would only be expected to feed power back into the grid during summer months when school is out of session. The potential revenue is estimated at about $14,400 per year if the district enters into a service contract with NUVVE Corp., a firm that provides vehicle-to-grid technology that offers high-powered charging and grid services for unused and renewable energy. The California-based NUVVE would provide fueling and charger maintenance. If the district provides its own service, the revenues are estimated to be $11,700.

The $435,000 from National Grid would come in the form of a rebate. The company would install a transformer at the bus depot on Springbrook Road to service the system, said Anthony Carloni, program manager for electric transportation for National Grid.

Overall, the district should expect a savings, based on reduced maintenance and fuel costs and the estimated revenue, of $22,900 per bus, according to the presentation by Guarino and Hauser. Over the course of their estimated 10-year lifespan, three electric buses could bring about savings of more than $500,000, Hauser said.

Hauser said officials expect state grant funding and funding from National Grid to be available annually through 2024-25 and they expect additional funding to be available from President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill.

"This plan for electrification puts Westerly on the road for eliminating more than 1 million pounds of CO2 emissions every year from our full-sized bus fleet, which means each of our (diesel) buses puts out more than their own weight in CO2 emissions. These buses weigh 33,000 pounds each," Hauser said.

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