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A Divide Over Electric School Buses?

Last year’s passage of the Virginia Clean Economy Act meant electric utilities needed to come up with more than 3,000 megawatts of energy storage capacity. One place was in the batteries of electric school buses.

But some Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups weren’t on the same. 

Senator Louise Lucas proposedthat school districts pay the cost of a diesel school bus. Dominion Energy would offset the remaining cost to upgrade that to an electric bus, and use the battery for energy storage. School districts would own the buses, and Dominion would own their batteries. 

The bill passed the senate, and is being considered by the House of Delegates. 

In a committee hearing Thursday, Delegate Don Scott of Portsmouth said he was confused by environmental groups’ opposition to the bill.   "Somebody’s got to explain to me how electric buses are bad for the environment," Scott said.  "So I guess I'm trying to figure out are they focused on costs? And that's a different issue. "

As it turns out, it was about cost, as Will Cleveland of the Southern Environmental Law Center explained.  "It has become very clear to us who were trying to decarbonize our power and transportation sectors that we cannot do that successfully if we are not mindful of the costs it entails," Cleveland said. 

The argument there is essentially that if Virginia doesn’t strive to make these improvements cost effective, it makes it harder to do over time, especially in an equitable way.

A Dominion spokesperson said that electric bills could see as much as a $1 a month increase to pay for the batteries, but that could go down with more efficient technology.

***Editor's Note:  The Southern Environmental Law Center is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jahd Khalil is a reporter and producer in Richmond.