Blue wheels distinguish the Mount Desert Island Regional School System’s electric bus from a fleet of diesel vehicles. The Hancock County district was the first in the state to purchase an electric school bus, which it began using in August 2021. Three Augusta-area school districts recently applied for funding to purchase similar vehicles. Courtesy of Eric Hann

WINTHROP — Three school districts in the Augusta area were chosen to apply for a grant for electric school buses, but the thought has some school administrators and board members wondering if the buses would be practical for their rural areas and long bus routes. 

Through the federal Clean School Bus Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, each district could receive a grant that would allow it to purchase up to 25 buses and $20,000 per bus for an accompanying charging station. The goal of the program is to divide $5 billion into schools across the country to replace diesel school buses with electric ones by 2026.  

The EPA named several school districts across the state as priorities for the program and those districts had until Aug. 19 to submit an application. They could find out as soon as October if they will receive a bus grant. 

The districts in the Augusta area that were chosen are Hallowell-based Regional School Unit 2, Somerville-based Regional School Unit 12 and Winthrop Public Schools. The factors that led the federal agency to prioritize these districts include that they are rural and considered high-needs districts in low-income areas.

Winthrop applied for four buses and RSU 2 applied for two, as did RSU 12.

In Maine, Mount Desert Island Regional School District was the first to purchase an electric bus, and districts interested in learning more about the Clean School Bus Program have been reaching out to its operations director, Eric Hann, who said he is “very happy” with the district’s investment in the vehicle.


Mount Desert Island Regional School District began using the electric bus in August 2021, and has just applied for four more.

MDI Regional School System’s bus charging station. Courtesy of Eric Hann

“I’m very happy with it,” Hann said. “Because of the quietness, there are no fumes, it’s low maintenance, we don’t have to worry about the engine, or changing the fuels, or the oil — all that stuff.”

The Hancock County school district received its bus through a grant from Volkswagen’s environmental mitigation trust fund.

Electric school buses are three times as efficient as the diesel alternatives, and the cost to charge an electric bus is 40% to 75% lower than Maine’s average diesel price, according to the Clean School Bus Program. Additionally, since the buses have zero greenhouse gas emissions, children who spend 20 minutes or more a day on a school bus can benefit by not being exposed to air pollution.

But since the buses rely on charged batteries, they can only travel a certain distance before needing to be charged again.

In the summer, the distance an electric school bus can go is reduced by around 15% in order to keep the bus cool, but in the winter, the distance can be reduced as much as 30% to 50% because of the energy it takes to heat the bus.


The mileage a bus gets is worrisome to some rural districts where there are not many charging stations around — the battery size depends on how large, or small, the bus is and can range from 90 to 300 kilowatt-hours.

Winthrop Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said at an Aug. 3 school board meeting that one of the district’s bus routes can be nearly 100 miles. On average, Hodgkin said the district uses around seven buses for its daily routes, but not all routes are as long as the one he mentioned. He applied for four electric buses, worth $375,000 each.

“A couple of things make me nervous,” Hodgkin told the school committee. “One, is the distance the buses have is 150 miles (on a charge). So, we take a number of trips that might not be over that (mileage), but they are over 100 miles.” 

The thought is, if a district receives an electric school bus through the grant, it would take diesel buses older than 2009 out of service. Some districts plan to keep at least one diesel bus for purposes such as traveling to sports games or other areas of the state.

A school board member in RSU 2, one of the districts chosen to apply for the grant, wondered about the cost to repair the buses and another, Amanda McDaniel, wondered about having charging ports available for the buses on long rides if the bus were to travel to another district.

“I have two charging stations at my work where for two hours, people can charge their cars and go off into town and then go back and get their car,” McDaniel said. “The problem is, it’s turned into neighbors’ charging and they are charging all day.”


Hann said the Mount Desert Island district has not run into the issue of not being able to find a charging station when it needed one.

If anything, with the grant, more bus charging stations will be available. According to the quasi-state agency Efficiency Maine, there are at least 300 charging locations in the state.

“They are coming up more on the maps,” Hann said. “The same unit we use for a bus, you can use on a car.”

According to the Maine Department of Education’s fact sheet on electric buses, the federal program plans to deploy buses in 36 states — totaling 1,800 buses and 354 school districts.

The school districts would find out in October if they were selected for the grant, and then must submit a purchase order form for the new buses. The buses are made-to-order and the districts should receive them by October 2024.

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