PARIS — An article published last month in the Advertiser Democrat and Sun Journal about electric bus grants ignited a firestorm on both newspapers’ Facebook pages.

The article reported that on Jan. 17, Maine School Administrative District 17’s school board of directors authorized Superintendent Heather Manchester to apply for a $200,000 grant that will help fund the purchase of two electric school buses.

The board’s vote in favor of the application was unanimous. The grant would be provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program and administered in Maine through the state’s Department of Education.

As Manchester explained to the board, applying for the grant will not obligate Oxford Hills to purchase any electric bus or charging station. The application is one step in a multiyear process. If approved, it will then be up to directors to decide whether to accept the grant.

“You have two years from when you get the grant to actually buy the bus,” she said. “You’ve got time. The routes need to serve title schools.”

With federal funds offsetting the difference in cost between a diesel-powered bus and an electric vehicle, Manchester said it provides SAD 17 with the opportunity to test how green energy transportation will perform in western Maine’s topography and weather conditions.


“This is an opportunity to test how electric buses will perform in Oxford Hills,” Manchester told the board Jan. 17 and repeated Tuesday to the Advertiser Democrat. “We’d like to test this out. It is probably going to be mandated in the future.”

“This as a test,” board Chairman Troy Ripley of Paris added during the meeting. “… It’s to find out what we’d need for mechanics. It’s a way to find out if A — do we want to go that way, or B — if we’re mandated to go that way …. to get some of that paid for with a grant versus the local share.”

In this recorded meeting screenshot, Maine School Administrative District 17 Chairman Troy Ripley of Paris addresses directors during a Jan. 17 business meeting at the Central Office in Paris. Screenshot

Manchester stated Tuesday that it is her and the board’s responsibility to explore all options that may improve the district, including the potential of electric vehicle transportation.

“And this current step, pursuing the grant, is not a commitment to purchase even an initial electric school bus.”

More information about Maine DOE’s clean bus program may be found on its website:

Among the benefits of EVs would be improved air quality for children riding to and from school; elimination of emissions to the environment; fuel and maintenance cost savings; and quieter modes of transport that may positively impact student behaviors.


In recent years, many school districts in Maine and nationwide that have added electric buses to their fleets have encountered challenges, including lower battery range in rural areas with hilly terrain and cold winter climates.

According to Scott Vlaun, executive director with the Center for an Ecology-Based Economy in Norway, technology has evolved to improve those issues on newly manufactured buses.

“Just the air quality on electric buses is so much better for kids,” Vlaun said. For colder climes, “some include kerosene heaters that run as the buses warm up in the morning or have heat pumps installed that help with (battery) range.

“The buses remain plugged in all night while parked, with the heat turned on with a warmed battery.”

Vlaun noted that he recently learned of rural Colorado school districts, Durango at a 6,500-foot elevation and Kremmling at 7,400-foot elevation, transitioning their bus fleets to 100% electric, three years after first introducing them.

He said those districts found that electric buses drive much faster on incline due to having more torque and recover battery range as they descend.


In Maine, the Kennebec Journal reported that two of four electric buses Winthrop received in 2023 had not been put into service as of December due to leaking windshields. The paper said Yarmouth School Department and the Vinalhaven School had the same problems with buses purchased last year, but were able to have them quickly fixed.

Recent newspaper articles about electric bus transportation in the Oxford Hills School District, seen in this screenshot, stoked opinions on social media. Screenshot

In Winthrop, its two leaking buses have yet to be repaired by the manufacturer, Lion Electric Co. of Saint-Jérôme, Quebec. Maine DOE is working with the district to get them repaired and paying for it to rent substitute buses.

Many who posted on the Advertiser Democrat’s Facebook page questioned the safety of electric buses, with some suggesting that children will be killed by battery fires.

In Hamden, Connecticut, an electric metro bus was destroyed by a battery fire in July 2022. In that case, the bus had been removed from service because it had failed to charge. An investigation revealed that its malfunctioning battery contained water or liquid coolant.

Last May a diesel-powered school bus caught fire in the Queens borough of New York City, causing multiple cars parked nearby to also ignite. The bus driver was credited with saving the lives of six students by evacuating them as the flames spread. No injuries were reported in that incident.

Last March, one of Vinalhaven’s electric buses was involved in a crash while carrying 15 students. None of the occupants were injured, and the bus was able to drive away under its own power.


Other comments on Facebook focused on the expense and environmental impact of mining lithium needed to make EV batteries.

Vlaun pointed out that as future generations of EVs and batteries are manufactured, demand for mining lithium will decrease. Old batteries that no longer power large vehicles still have enough life to operate other equipment. Once completely retired from use, the materials are extracted and reused to make new batteries.

Some suggest it is possible that by mid-century there will be enough renewable lithium in the market that mining will no longer be a factor.

Many posters remarked that with a serious shortage of school bus drivers, resources should be directed toward increasing wages and job retention. It is difficult to judge whether a transition from diesel to battery technology will make the position harder or easier to fill in the future.

Labor is an issue affecting workers in almost every industry, including finding trained and qualified EV mechanic specialists.

Applying for the grant is no guarantee that SAD 17 will receive one. If awarded the grant, the district is under no obligation to accept it.

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