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MDI High School transporting students on Maine’s first electric bus

Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 5:31 PM EDT
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BAR HARBOR, Maine (WABI) - A new bus at MDI High School is a first of its kind in the state.

The school purchased an electric school bus through a grant from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection using funds from the Volkswagon Emissions Fraud Settlement.

It was MDI bus driver Doug Van Groder who first took an interest in getting an electric school bus at MDI, but he figured the school wouldn’t be interested in the $350,000 price tag.

“Soon after that, we heard about the grant program,” Van Groder said. “They were offering to pay eighty percent of the price of the bus. The state came through, and for the same price as a normal bus, actually a little less, we have this electric bus with us now.”

‘A Climate to Thrive,’ a nonprofit organization focused on energy independence for MDI, assisted the school with the grant application process, according to one of the organizations founding members and Interim Executive Director Johannah Blackman.

“A lot of institutions, they want to do this type of work,” said Blackman. “So I hope that schools around the state know that there are organizations like ‘A Climate to Thrive” out there that would like to help them make this type of program possible.”

The battery in the bus has a range of 125 miles, and the school has charging infrastructure on campus. The school estimates it will save between 5 and 8-thousand dollars a year in fuel and maintenance costs.

Numbers that excite school administrators, and possibly even the students.

“Kids being who they are, they pretend to be unimpressed,” Van Groder laughed. “But one day this bus wasn’t available to us, so we drove on a diesel bus, and they got on and said, ‘Well where’s the electric bus? Did you forget to plug it in?’”

It’s not a stretch to imagine that electric school buses like the one at MDI High School might be common place in the not-too-distant future in Maine, and Principal Matt Haney said there’s a fair amount of pride here that the very first one in the state’s history said “MDI High School” on the side of it.

“It’ll make very little difference to the world if we’re the only one,” Haney said. “I think being able to talk about how we went through the process, how it works for us, and sharing the concept of alternative fuel transportation for schools is really what we have to do, and I’m just so excited to have that opportunity here.”

The school district is looking to add more electric buses to the fleet and is seeking additional grant opportunities.

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