Nearly 1 in 10 US schools now using solar power

Read the full story at The Hill.

Thousands of schools across the U.S. are beginning to make the switch to solar power, generating significant cost savings and helping them meet their hefty energy needs, a new report has found.

Electric school buses are taking students back to school – bringing cleaner air and lower maintenance costs to school districts across the country

A new EV schoolbus from an all-electric fleet parked beside charging stations at South El Monte High School in California, Aug. 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

by Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, The New School

Each weekday, more than half of the K-12 students in the U.S. – over 25 million pupils – ride a school bus. Until very recently, nearly all of these 500,000 buses ran on diesel fuel.

Nationwide, diesel-powered school buses produce more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. They also generate air pollutants that are harmful to children’s health – especially fine particulates. Studies show that exposure to diesel tailpipe emissions worsens respiratory conditions, decreases lung function and can lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Shifting to cleaner buses is especially important for low-income students. Across the U.S., 60% of low-income students ride the school bus, compared with 45% of other students. School buses often idle their engines while they are loading or unloading, which exposes children directly to exhaust fumes.

I study issues at the intersection of infrastructure, policy and place, including sustainability and equity in transportation. While electrifying school bus fleets requires big investments, I believe the evidence makes clear that it will more than pay off over the long term in health and economic benefits, and I am encouraged to see public and private investments moving in that direction.

Early movers

Decisions about switching from diesel to electric school buses typically lie with cities and school districts, although state governments are getting involved. As of March 2022, 415 school districts or contracted fleet operators had committed to deploy 12,275 electric school buses in a wide range of settings, from large cities to rural counties, across 38 states and lands of two Native American tribes.

California, a longtime leader in clean vehicle policy, acquired its first electric school buses in 2014. Now the state is spending nearly US$70 million to replace more than 200 diesel buses with electric versions to advance its climate and air-quality goals.

Another notable case is Montgomery County, the largest school district in Maryland, which is replacing 326 diesel buses with electric buses by 2025 and building five charging depots. The district serves a diverse population of 160,000 students in 210 schools.

In Virginia, the utility company Dominion Energy announced in 2019 that it would provide 50 electric buses for 16 school districts across the state as one of its initiatives to reduce pollution and promote sustainability. Dominion is paying for infrastructure costs and absorbing the cost difference between a diesel and an electric bus.

The town of Chesapeake, Va., takes delivery of its first electric school buses, funded by the utility Dominion Energy.

The biggest obstacles: Funding and space

As Dominion’s gesture suggests, converting bus fleets isn’t an easy step for many school districts. An electric school bus can cost up to $400,000, two to three times the price of a diesel bus.

But electric buses have lower operating costs, so they save districts an estimated $4,000 to $11,000 per bus per year compared with diesel versions. That can make the costs of electric buses comparable over their lifetimes.

Electric bus motors have about 20 parts, compared with 2,000 in a diesel engine, and require far fewer maintenance steps such as regular fluid changes. And because many of their mechanical systems, such as braking and steering, are similar to those in diesel buses, electric buses are relatively easy to service, especially in districts where both bus types operate.

Charging stations also require money and space, especially in areas where bus routes are long and battery range is a constraint. Most buses now on the market have ranges of about 100 to 120 miles (160-190 kilometers) on a single charge.

In a 2013 study, analysts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reviewed school bus drive cycles in Colorado, New York and Washington and found that the average school bus was typically in operation for 5.26 hours per day. Driving distance averaged about 32 miles, (50 kilometers), with some buses traveling over 127 miles (200 kilomaters) daily.

School districts need places to charge buses easily and efficiently, especially between morning and afternoon routes. Building this infrastructure, especially as diesel buses continue to operate concurrently with growing electric fleets, can pose a challenge in school districts where space is limited.

Buses as power sources

At the same time, charging infrastructure can make school bus fueling and management more efficient. Today’s managed charging infrastructure allows districts to plug in a bus whenever it is parked at the depot but have the bus charge only when needed. Chargers can be programmed to function at times of day when energy demand is lowest and power is less expensive.

Manufacturers are introducing buses equipped with bidirectional charging capability that can send stored electricity back to the grid when they are not in service. During summer months, when many school buses are not in use and power usage often peaks, utilities soon may be able to call on school districts to make charged buses available to help ease demand load. These buses can also be used as mobile generators during power outages and emergencies.

In a 2022 study, researchers at the University of North Carolina analyzed how the state’s utilities could use school buses with vehicle-to-grid charging to manage peak power demand while taking the buses’ schedules into account. They estimated that a fleet of 14,000 buses could provide about 2.6 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid on an average winter weekend day in North Carolina, reducing utilities’ dependence on natural gas and avoiding up to 1,130 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per day.

Cleaner air is likely to pay off in improved student performance. In a 2019 study, researchers found that retrofitting 2,656 diesel buses in Georgia – adding new components to reduce the buses’ emissions – was associated with positive effects on students’ respiratory health, and that districts with retrofitted diesel buses experienced test score gains in English and math. Since even modernized diesel vehicles still generate air pollutants, shifting to electric buses would likely produce even larger increases.

Spreading the benefits

Federal and state agencies are moving to speed up the transition to electric school buses. The American Rescue Plan, enacted in 2021 to provide economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, included $7 million in rebates for school districts in underserved communities, Tribal schools and private fleets serving schools that purchase electric buses.

In March 2022 the Environmental Protection Agency awarded funding for 23 electric school bus replacement programs and associated charging infrastructure in 11 states. And New York state’s fiscal 2023 budget includes a nation-leading requirement that all new school bus purchases must be electric starting in July 2027, and that all school buses in service must be zero-emission by 2035. The budget allocates $500 million in potential state funding for school bus electrification as part of a larger environmental bond act, which will be on the ballot in November 2022.

Riding the iconic yellow school bus is a formative experience for millions of kids across the U.S. If more districts make the shift away from diesel, I believe it will become a greener and healthier trip and a step toward the zero-emissions future our nation’s children deserve.

Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, Adjunct Lecturer in Urban Studies, The New School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Toxic chemicals lurk at playgrounds

Read the full story at E&E News.

Concerns about modern playground surfaces were first raised decades ago, when recycled tire crumb rubber became a popular playground surface. The recycled tires often contained lead and other heavy metals, and public health experts were especially concerned that using the bite-sized material on playgrounds could unnecessarily expose small children, particularly toddlers, who are prone to putting objects in their mouths.

Nowadays, many municipalities searching for new playground surfaces know enough to stay away from tire crumb rubber.

But many continue to install what’s called “pour in place” rubber, flat, spongy rubber surfaces that can contain other chemicals of concern, like polyaromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds. Those more solid rubber surfaces can also contain additives and binders that could harm the health of children, though the exact chemicals vary by manufacturer.

Artificial turf, long-popular on athletic fields, has also been marketed as a playground surface. Some PFAS are used to manufacture the plastic grass blades (Greenwire, Dec. 8, 2021).

Volunteers studying pollinator plants at Shenandoah County landfill

Read the full story at Northern Virginia Daily.

At the Shenandoah County Landfill on Friday, local educator Hannah Bement was overjoyed to see a monarch butterfly.

“It gives me chills,” she said, watching as the orange-and-black insect fluttered over the plot of native wildflowers to land on a milkweed plant.

Monarchs, which make an approximately 1,000-mile flight each year from Mexico to the United States, rely on milkweed to provide a place for them to lay their eggs and for their caterpillars to have a source of food before they eventually make their flight to Mexico.

Without milkweed, there is no monarch butterfly.

Bement was joined on Friday by three other volunteers from the local nonprofit organization Sustainability Matters to identify and catalog how well the pollinator gardens, maintained through the Making Trash Bloom initiative, are doing.

Webinar: Energy Efficiency Programs for K-12 Public Schools

Aug 25, 2022, 11 am-noon CDT
Register here.

The UIC Energy Resources Center presents An overview of the strategies & benefits of energy efficiency for K-12 schools in the Midwest. K-12 schools today face many challenges ranging from rising energy costs to reduced annual operating budgets in the face of growing student populations. Energy efficiency is a potential cost-saving strategy that can redirect savings back to educating students in a safe and healthy learning environment.

Greening a home — and the next generation — in Wisconsin

Read the full story at Energy News Network.

A group of Wisconsin high school students recently received first-hand experience helping to reduce a home’s carbon footprint as part of a project for their AP Environmental Science course.

Of green thumbs, recycling and robots

Read the full story from the Archdiocese of Miami.

Students from Little Flower School in Hollywood have been working to make their school and community greener.

During the school’s annual Academic Showcase on May 18, 2022, they showed family and friends the STEM (acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) projects they had been working on to reach that goal.

Webinar: Strategies for Implementing a Green Revolving Fund

Jun 23, 2022, 2 pm CDT
Register here.

Competing priorities in primary and secondary school systems mean there is rarely enough money to fund capital building projects which improve efficiency, health and the bottom line. There are ways to overcome this funding barrier. One is a proven model of internal capital financing referred to as a Green Revolving Fund (GRF).

During this webinar, presenters will explore the virtuous cycle of the revolving fund and showcase stories from K-12 schools that are using the GRF model to support sustainability programs on their campuses, including successes and pitfalls. Attendees will see first-hand the various tools designed specifically to help institutions implement and manage a fund, from simple spreadsheets to the GRITS software.

We welcome all school leaders and community advocates interested in financing sustainability programs with a revolving fund to join us for this free webinar.

Presenters

  • Cameren Cousins, Director of Sustainability & Faculty, Fenn School
  • Dan Schnitzer, Director of Construction & Sustainability, Durham Public Schools
  • Mark Orlowski, Executive Director and Founder, Sustainable Endowments Institute

Hear from four TJ freshmen admitted under controversial circumstances

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Sarah Castillo, 15, grew up never considering the possibility of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Then two years ago, Thomas Jefferson, known as TJ and frequently ranked the best public high school in America, radically altered its admissions process, eliminating a much-feared test and a $100 application fee, in the hope of admitting more students of color and low-income students.

The changes at the magnet school in Northern Virginia sent parents and alumni into a frenzy. Some were thrilled that the first class admitted under the new system boasted more Black and Hispanic students, at 7 percent and 11 percent, than any other in recent memory. But others lamented a 20 percent decrease in Asian American representation, and a group of disgruntled parents eventually filed a lawsuit alleging the admissions system is racially discriminatory. That suit, which recently drew the attention of the Supreme Court, is ongoing.

But, as the adults went to battle in courtrooms, students such as Sarah Castillo were reconsidering their options. Hundreds of students who had neither thought of applying to TJ, nor felt they had a chance of acceptance under the old admissions system, now took the plunge, and some of them, including Sarah, got in.

These students spent the past year finding their way inside the school, adjusting to its notoriously heavy workload and trying to make good grades alongside good friends. Constantly sounding in the background, even for those who tried to ignore it, were the voices of adults, and sometimes fellow students, who insisted the admissions process that accepted them was illegitimate, that they did not belong at TJ.

The Washington Post followed four TJ freshmen — Sarah Castillo, Ershad Sulaiman, Kaiwan Bilal and Julie Marco — through a difficult, unusual and absorbing academic year. Here, in their own words, is what it was like.

Nature-based education sounds nice, but let’s start by sending kids out to play

Read the full story at Treehugger.

Schools need to do a better job of teaching kids about nature. This is the message from a new report released by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Council on Energy Environment and Water, ahead of a UN meeting set to take place in early June.

The report describes the world as being at a “boiling point”, with humanity desperately needing to revamp its relationship with nature if it hopes to survive. The report makes various recommendations for how to do so, but the one that caught my eye was a call for a global campaign on nature-based education. As a mother of three children, a forest school supporter, and author of an upcoming book on screen-free parenting, that’s not surprising. I dug deeper.