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Kremmling has state’s second

by Allen Best

In an odd way, Boulder and Kremmling have a common bond. The school districts headquartered in the two places are the first in Colorado to have electric school buses.

First was the electric bus for the Boulder Valley School District, which rolled out in early March. The bus for the West Grand School District arrived in Kremmling on Wednesday afternoon and will be placed in service in early April.

Many more will be following across Colorado, as state aid has been approved for 14 buses. The grant program taps Colorado’s $67.5 million share of the Volkswagen settlement.

As for these first two districts, they’re very different. Boulder Valley has 30,000, West Grand 408 students drawn from Kremmling and outlying routes up the various valleys: the Muddy, Troublesome, Williams Fork, and Blue, as well as along the Colorado River to Parshall.

Darrin M. Peppard, the superintendent of schools at West Grand, credits activism by both Mountain Parks Electric, the local electrical cooperative, and the Boulder school district.

“We were notified by Mountain Parks Electric about the Volkswagen settlement funds grant. We weren’t entirely sure—an electric bus, our high altitude, the cold temperature. How is that really going to function?”

What sold West Grand was a trip to Boulder. The school district there had arranged to have an electric bus hauled from a school district in North Dakota. “It was a cold, cold, snowy day in Boulder—which was perfect,” says Peppard. “They fired up the bus, and the cabin temperature warmed much more rapidly than a diesel bus would in December.”

Making the electric bus even more attractive was the cost: nothing. West Grand got a grant for $301,000 from the state program. Mountain Parks Electric contributed $70,000 and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the wholesale supplier for Mountain Parks, added $50,000. This includes the cost of the bus but also the electrical infrastructure at the bus barn for charging.

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Chris Michalowski, the power use advisor at Mountain Parks, says the co-op’s capital funds—unclaimed credits of members who died or have left—were tapped to fund the bus. But the bus fits in with a broader goal of Mountain Parks to encourage transportation electrification.

“This is a great way to do that. It’s highly visible, easily recognizable, on the road twice a day,” he says. And that influence of the electric bus will encourage the parents of the bus riders to buy electric.

West Grand has changed little since the 1970s when this writer lived there. It is ranch country, but the largest employer is the molybdenum mill near the head of the Williams Fork Valley.

This new 78-passenger electric bus will have a route that runs 20 to 25 miles twice a day “up” the Blue River Valley, not quite to Green Mountain Reservoir.

The buses officially have a range of 120 miles. That said, when it was driven to Kremmling on Wednesday it was charged in Golden and again in Frisco.

Community reaction has been one of intrigue, Peppard says. “Is it going to work? Is it going to be OK? People are eagerly anticipating answers to those questions, and we are confident that it will be great.”

He expects the first surprise to be when people board the bus. “It’s extremely quiet.”

In Boulder County, the school district will study operation of its electric bus with an eye on cost savings. The district has 255 buses

ALT Fuels Colorado has been delivering grants for several years for electric and other vehicles that replace diesel vehicles 2009 or older. To be eligible, there must be a one-to-one trade-out.

The Vail Valley Foundation also was given $209,000 for an electric shuttle bus at the same time. Other school districts were given money for propane-burning buses.

Arriving as governor in January 2019, Jared Polis shifted funding, steering all Colorado’s $67.5 million share of the Volkswagen settlement into electric and renewable natural gas.

For example, both Waste Management and Western Disposal Services got grants for garbage trucks that will burn renewable natural gas, the latter from a sewage treatment plant in Boulder.

Grants have also been approved for electric buses: Steamboat Springs, Denver, Aspen (Country Day), and Durango. Aurora Public Schools have gotten funding for 7.

The city of Fort Collins has also received funding for an electric bus.

Matt Goble, program coordinator for ALT Fuels Colorado, says there’s a significant lag time between when a bus is ordered and when it is delivered. “Right now, there is a 6 to 8 month best-scenario,” he says.

Durango’s award may be unique in that the school district is partnering with La Plata Electric to do bus-to-grid charging. (A story coming in another issue of Big Pivots).

See full list of ALT Fuels Colorado award recipients here.

Allen Best
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