While policymakers in the other Washington are making me very depressed by rolling back the Clean Power Plan and trying to put the brakes on the global energy transition, we here in West Coast Washington are only accelerating our climate progress. Most recently, it was the Franklin Pierce School District putting the pedal to the metal, rolling out the state’s first electric school bus. Where better to eliminate tailpipe pollution than with the buses that haul our kids to and from school every day? And of course, this one bus is just the beginning—the first of what I hope will be a 100% system-wide conversion by 2050.
The new bus made its debut at an All Aboard! celebration last week, heralded by the Washington and Franklin Pierce high school marching bands. Young people were excited to see and climb aboard the bus; so were Governor Inslee and the members of a bi-partisan delegation of elected officials who participated in a joyful ribbon cutting ceremony. Here’s how all this came about.
Franklin Pierce Schools serves 8,000 students from preschool to 12th grade. Students speak 42 different languages. The district received funding for the first electric bus in Washington State through TransAlta’s Centralia Coal Transition Grants. Tacoma Public Utilities worked with the school district to fuel the bus with their 97% carbon-free electricity, optimize routes, infrastructure and planning for the expansion of this pilot. The foresight of the district’s Transportation Director Tim Bridgeman seems to have revved up this win. While many school buses have moved from diesel to compressed natural gas, Mr. Bridgeman recognizes that electric fuel is where we need to head. “We chose electric because we think it fits perfectly with our district’s vision for sustainability and clean energy.”
The TransAlta Coal transition grants were established when the closure of the plant was negotiated with the legislature in 2011. The agreement established a $55million fund to provide grants to area businesses, nonprofit organizations and local governments to improve energy efficiency; educate and retrain workers for the next generation of jobs; and fund energy technology projects that improve the environment. They chose wisely in awarding a $330,155 grant to the district. It’s a big investment today, but it will pay off in so many ways as it helps to spark the movement towards 100% clean school buses; our kids health from cleaner air; our waterways from cleaner storm water run-off; our planet from fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Hats off to everyone who made this a reality in Washington State!