Push for hybrid school buses could save money

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Jefferson County Public Schools have
purchased 18 hybrid electric school buses as part of a statewide
push to use more of the fuel-efficient vehicles to save money on
gas.

The district now has 50 such buses, more than any other school
district in the country, while Kentucky has nearly 160 such buses,
tops in the nation.

The hybrids, which use both diesel fuel and electricity, were
purchased in 36 districts throughout Kentucky during the past year
using federal stimulus money as part of a statewide experiment to
see if they can save schools money and reduce the impact on the
environment.

The state plans to add about 50 more as other districts express
interest. And so far, reports of gas savings are encouraging.

Jefferson County schools vehicle maintenance head, John
Ackerman, said that the county's more than 1,200 regular school buses get anywhere from 6.5 miles a gallon to 7 miles a gallon, and so far, the hybrid buses have been getting about 8.5 to 9 miles per gallon.

With most buses traveling an average of 17,000 miles a year,
each of those hybrid buses are expected to save the district about
700 gallons of fuel, he said.

"With all of them together, we're looking to save $75,000, at
least," Ackerman said. "I'd say that's a conservative estimate.
It could be more."

Pike County has gotten some of the best results, with some of
its 37 hybrid buses getting close to 12 miles per gallon.

"It's been a real pleasant surprise," said Ancie Casey,
transportation director for the county's school district.

In Whitley County, district transportation director T.O. Elliot
said he hasn't been blown away by the nine miles per gallon his one
hybrid is getting because he already had one driver getting more
than seven miles on a regular bus.

"We didn't want to jump into this big but everything's going
green and the grant was a good incentive to try it out," Elliot
said.

Most of the hybrids have been on the road less than a full
school year, but the majority are getting at least two miles more
per gallon than regular buses, said Melissa Howell, executive
director of the Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition, which helped win a
grant to pay for the buses.

"No one really knows if the technology is cost-effective in the
long run because no one has ever used it the way we're using it,"
she said.

"We've become a test bed for this technology," Ackerman said.
"There are a lot of questions about how the hybrid system could
help schools and the idea was just to put a lot of them on the road
and see how they do."

The Kentucky Clean Fuels Coalition worked with the state
education department to win stimulus money for the buses through
the U.S. Department of Energy in 2009. It was awarded nearly $13
million to help districts pay for the hybrids, which cost about
$150,000 a piece, almost twice as much as a regular school bus.

The coalition will spend the next two years collecting
information from districts each month about fuel usage and mileage
that can be compared with regular buses.

Elliot and the other district leaders said the big concern is
how much maintenance costs might be after the hybrids' five-year
warranties expire.

Hybrid batteries do cost thousands more right now than regular
bus batteries, but then again, districts are reporting less wear
and tear on the hybrid buses' braking systems, Howell said.

The plug-in bus was part of a project started by North
Carolina-based Advanced Energy in 2006 that put plug-in hybrid
buses on routes in Arkansas, California, Florida, North Carolina,
Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Washington, Iowa, New York,
Virginia and Washington, D.C.


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