Salem-Keizer wins grant for third electric school bus

Some Salem students will get a quieter, cleaner ride to school next fall.

The Salem-Keizer School District is getting a new electric bus from Portland General Electric through the utility’s grant program.

When it’s delivered next fall, the bus will be the third in the district’s electric fleet. Salem-Keizer also won grants in 2020 and 2021 for a bus from PGE.

The first 21-seater electric bus arrived in the summer of 2021, and after some test driving, was put to use on shorter bus routes within its charging radius.

The bus awarded in 2021 should arrive in January 2023, said TJ Crockett, the district’s transportation director.

Oregon’s second-largest school district runs a fleet of about 300 buses that transport tens of thousands of local students to classes, sporting events and other activities. The rest run on diesel or gasoline, requiring about 3,000 gallons of fuel daily and cover close to 20,000 miles.

The first electric bus got good reviews from drivers, who told Salem Reporter they appreciated not breathing diesel exhaust while on the job, or adding to pollution from idling vehicles at schools.

The 2022 round of PGE bus grants is funded through the Oregon Clean Fuels Program from the Department of Environmental Quality. Under that program, PGE covers the cost difference between an electric bus and the amount the district would have spent on a conventional fuel-powered ride.

The amount the utility spends will depend on the price of the bus when it’s ordered, a utility spokeswoman said.

Electric buses remain prohibitively expensive upfront, Crockett said last year – about $350,000 to $400,000 for a new bus, compared with $150,000 to $175,000 for the same model running on diesel. He said over its first months operating, the district’s first electric bus required less maintenance than diesel buses, and was traveling about 80 miles on a single charge.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.