warm thoughts


Written on: December 14, 2022

By Tucker Perkins, President & CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council

The Biden administration recently announced nearly $1 billion in Clean School Bus Program rebate awards. Nearly all the money will go toward 2,350 electric school buses next year.

If the program’s goal is to add a few electric school buses to a U.S. fleet that includes nearly half a million dirty diesel buses, it’s a start. But if the program’s goal is to decarbonize the U.S. school bus fleet by replacing as many diesel school buses as possible with low-emission buses, we have much better options.

You wouldn’t know it from the headlines last week, but the funding awards will also go toward the purchase of 109 low-emission buses powered by propane. These buses cost just a third as much as the electric buses, which also require much more extensive and expensive infrastructure related to charging stations, electrical service upgrades, and so on.

For nearly $1 billion the program could help put many more propane buses on American roads. In fact, it could help fund as many as 29,000 propane buses, assuming each bus receives a $30,000 incentive, as the program stipulates.

Makes one wonder why so many are lauding allocation of these taxpayer dollars to electric buses, including this newspaper.

According to Propane Education & Research Council analysis, replacing 29,000 diesel buses with propane buses would reduce nitrogen oxide or NOx emissions by 7,846 metric tons per year. Replacing 2,350 diesel buses with electric buses would reduce NOx emissions by just 665 metric tons per year.

And those 29,000 propane buses would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by a whopping 155,472 metric tons per year, compared with a reduction of just 36,870 metric tons per year for 2,350 electric buses, considering the average carbon intensity of the U.S. electrical grid.

Simply put, those Clean School Bus Program rebate awards could have done more for school districts. But there’s more.

Consider that those emissions reductions have a particularly big impact in rural areas, where power generation plants are often located. Propane is used extensively in those areas for home heating and agriculture engines, among other applications. Plus, propane buses have a range of 400 miles on a single refueling, hundreds of miles more than electric buses.

Environmental justice is a key concern, and based on the cost and emissions data, the nearly $1 billion in rebate awards won’t do enough in this realm either. Certainly, some low-emission electric buses are better than none, but put simply, more propane buses will do more. And again, no expensive recharging infrastructure is necessary. A propane provider can install an onsite refueling station for low or no cost to the school district or bus contractor with a fueling contract.

More federal dollars for low-emission buses will be available in the coming years. The Clean School Bus Program provides $5 billion from 2022 to 2026 to replace existing diesel buses with cleaner alternatives. With all the evidence available, let’s hope we make smarter choices with those taxpayer funds and achieve the most carbon emissions reductions as quickly as we can.

Tucker Perkins is the president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council based in Washington, D.C.