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Pekin, Hollis School Districts Add Electric Buses To Fleets

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio
A new Pekin electric school bus charges up at a new charging station at the City of Pekin's School Bus Transportation garage on Koch St.

The Pekin and Hollis school districts now tout some of the state's first electric school buses.The buses were purchased with $882,000 in funds from the $8.6 million E.D. Edwards power plant settlement.

As part of the Clean Air Act lawsuit settlement, the plant's owners are required to pay out money to benefit the region impacted by the coal-burning plant's pollutants. The plant also is mandated to shutter by the end of next year.

Chad Jones is superintendent of Hollis CUSD 328 in rural Peoria County.

"It cleans the air that the children breathe. It immediately reduces our contribution to climate change," Jones said. "Replacing our diesel bus with the electric bus will benefit our kids with respiratory issues, like asthma, and also reduce school absences."

The Hollis school district has just one school bus. Jones joked it's the first district in the country to take the school bus fleet fully electric.

Tucker Kennedy is director of communications for Ameren Illinois that worked to install the bus charging stations.

"We see this project, and we see what we're doing in these school districts, and the opportunities we have is a real step in the transportation electrification," Kennedy said. "Because that's really where a lot of these emissions come from."

Credit Tim Shelley/WCBU

School buses are the single largest mass transit service in the United States. But Kennedy said there are fewer than 60 public charging stations in downstate Illinois, highlighting the need to build out the network.

"We know this is coming. We know the electric vehicles are coming, and we have to be prepared for it," Kennedy said.

The electric buses are "vehicle-to-grid." Gregory Poilasne is the CEO of Nuuve Corporation that developed the V2G technology for the buses.

"This type of equipment is complex, because you're not only taking energy from the grid, but you're pushing it back to the grid, as well," he explained. "This is the first time in the U.S. that a bus is providing potential energy back to the grid in order to provide grid services."

When idle, the bus batteries can store energy for the power grid during low-usage times. That energy can then be pushed out and sold back to the grid when there is higher demand. This provides a potential new revenue source for school districts.

That's welcome news for Jones. The Hollis school district is estimating a $65,000 revenue hit when the Edwards power plant closes next year. Using the electric bus as a revenue generator during off-hours helps blunt that financial blow.

But Jones said that's not his biggest concern.

"My only worry for this electric bus is kids missing the bus in the morning because this electric bus is so quiet, you can barely hear it coming," he said.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.