Electric Bus Arrives in West Grand

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The mountain region’s first electric school bus arrived in Kremmling on Wednesday, bringing with it a “new frontier and a time to make things a little cleaner,” according to James Gregory, Director of Transportation at West Grand School District, who summarized the excitement in four words, “–and here we go!”

The 78-passenger, 2021 Blue Bird All American bus boasts a 120-mile range and was acquired with a $264,000 award through the Colorado State Energy Office’s Volkswagen Diesel Settlement Grant, explains West Grand Superintendent Dr. Darrin Peppard. 

The total cost of the bus, including the charging station and labor, was $396,260, he says, with the remainder being covered by generous monies from Mountain Parks Electric’s (MPE) Education Fund and their power provider, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.  

Mountain Parks reminds that, running entirely on electricity and not diesel fuel, the bus has no tailpipe emissions, resulting in cleaner air. It also has “lower operating costs per mile” than a traditional diesel-powered bus. It requires no oil changes and has “fewer moving parts,” a minimal 30 in its propulsion system as compared to 200 in the diesel engine.  

The grant was awarded in early 2020, and the District initially planned to start the 2020-2021 school year with the bus already embedded in its fleet. However, Gregory explains, “[the manufacturer] went back and added a cold-weather package, insulating the batteries with hot water pockets and an insulation pad that can transfer heat out or in, depending on the need.”

He says that Blue Bird also “boosted up the internal heat system–it’s like an Insta-Hot on steroids.”  

Gregory further points out that the electric bus requires no warm-up period even in Kremmling’s coldest months. While a diesel bus engine can take 15 to 20 minutes to be warm enough to drive, adding emissions to the air all the while, the electric bus’ “pre-trip” can be done inside the bus bay, he says. 

A ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration was held Thursday morning at the bus barn behind the West Grand High School. Peppard opened the event and brief words were given by Duane Highley, CEO of Tri-State G&T; Kent Singer, Executive Director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association; and Rob Taylor, Manager of Communications at Mountain Parks Electric. 

Members of the community were then welcomed onto the bus to experience a brief e-bus ride for themselves. Social distance measures were followed.

On the bus’ long-anticipated arrival, Peppard stated, “We are honored to have one of the first ever electric buses serving children at high altitude. We appreciate the combination of Mountain Parks Electric and their provider Tri-State for their support on this journey. Great partnerships like these demonstrate for our students and our community unique and innovative ways to solve some of our future challenges.”

The initiative coming to fruition through the support of Mountain Parks is aligned with a long-time goal of the consumer-owned co-op to “put more renewable energy to work by electrifying transportation.” They funded the first electric vehicle charging stations in the county in 2015. And they are on track to transition their general power supply to 50% renewable resources by 2024.

“The Colorado Rural Electric Association supports the idea of ‘beneficial electrification, ’which means switching a particular end-use from fossil fuels to electric,” offered Singer on the longer-term advantages of the project. 

“The electric bus project sponsored by Mountain Parks Electric Association and the West Grand School District is a great example of how electrification can be deployed to save money and benefit the Mountain Parks community. We’re here to help Mountain Parks Electric celebrate this innovative and forward-thinking project.”

The e-bus will be put into service on the Blue River route, according to Gregory, and may be used occasionally on the Parshall/Troublesome route. It will not be used on the Gore Range. 

For more on funding partners, go to Mountain Parks Electric at mpei.com and Tri-State G&T at tristategt.org. To learn more about the Colorado Rural Electric Association, go to crea.coop. To stay informed of all West Grand Schools happenings, visit the District website at wgsd.us.