Director of Transportation and Custodial Services Richard Joseph Jr. addresses on Tuesday, Dec. 12, over the drawbacks to electric buses and the grant program through the EPA. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — In his report to the board of directors on Tuesday, Dec. 12, RSU 9 Superintendent Christian Elkington included his own personal findings when doing research on RSU 9’s eligibility in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus program, a grant program planning to invest $5 billion over five years to replace existing school buses with zero-emission and low-emission models.

In his report, Elkington wrote the process of converting to electric school buses would be a “big undertaking with the infrastructure set-up”, but they are attending meetings to find out if the option is viable for the district.

The grant application deadline for 2024 is set for Wednesday, Jan. 31. Elkington explained to the board his reluctance to move forward with an application without an in-depth discussion amongst the board and other interested parties.

“We were close two years ago,” Elkington stated. “We had completed the entire process to apply and that was probably round one, and then we found out that we were going to have to come up with the possibility of $300,000 if we didn’t meet all the different standards.”

He added, “You could start it, you could go in, and you could get involved, and then at the end they may tell you, ‘oh by the way, you didn’t really qualify’.”

Director of Transportation and Custodial Services Richard Joseph Jr., who was late to the meeting, had attended a webinar for electric school buses earlier that day according to Elkington. Elkington prompted Joseph to share any positives information regarding the buses.


“Confusing,” Joseph said. “And a lot of learning.”

Joseph shared that RSU 9 was not prioritized in the grant funding, so an application would not yield the full amount as a result. He also added the criteria for the grant funding included replacing models from 2010 or older, which RSU 9 only has two.

Currently, RSU 9 is the leader in propane buses with 20 propane buses in the fleet and only 13 diesel buses. Joseph stated that he would investigate the grant application further, but indicated that it would be a long process that would involve approval from the board of directors as well as contacting their electric company.

“I’m still not 100% sure if that’s the way to go or not,” he said. Joseph added the biggest endeavor in the whole process was building the infrastructure, and he shared concerns with the board and superintendent about potential out of pocket expenses that the grant would not cover.

Elkington asked if Joseph could put together a rough estimate of what the cost would potentially be by the next meeting in January. Joseph said he would see what he could put together by then.

Director Rich Ruhlin of Industry added to the discussion by stating, “From a professional perspective, I’m very interested in the infrastructure for the larger transformers for the quick charge, but I absolutely get the cost.”


He went on to say, “I think most of us would agree with propane, but propane is fossil fuel. 15 years from now, when most of us are probably not doing this anymore, are we making the right future forward decisions for the district.”

Elkington and Ruhlin both agreed that this decision would more likely be for the next round of grant funding as they, along with Joseph, share reservations not only on what is covered by the grant, but also the life-expectancy of the batteries.

Director Janice David of Farmington also shared her reservations that spawned from an article published in the Portland Press Herald regarding leaky windshields on brand new buses.

Director Jeff Barnum of New Vineyard asked if electric buses could potentially outlast propane buses, to which Joseph could not provide an answer.

Elkington added to this, stating he has a colleague in Arizona that purchased electric school buses for that school district and his colleague had the same questions.

“His biggest question is how long will the battery last,” Elkington stated. “The electric school bus is very different than electric transportation buses, they’re not even made by the same companies. We’ll see if we get some information, but they’ve only been around and in use for about five years right now.”

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