Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
This is the third in a series of monthly blogs celebrating the grant projects funded through our Clean Air Act settlement with the owners of the E.D. Edwards coal-fired power plant outside Peoria, Illinois. The settlement provides for the plant to close by the end of 2022 and makes $8.6 million available for local job training, lung-health, energy-efficiency, solar-energy, and bus-electrification projects. Each blog features the great work one of the settlement grantees is doing to promote public health and quality of life in the Peoria, Illinois area. Our first blog showcases the new settlement-funded solar array on Peoria’s Romain Arts and Culture Community Center. The second details the settlement-funded expansion of a job-assistance program run by Peoria’s Jubilee Ministries.
Two Peoria-area school districts have added electric school buses to their fleets, thanks to the vision and hard work of local educators and students and the creation of the Edwards Settlement Fund. The buses will go to the Hollis Consolidated School District, a small K-8 district that includes the E.D. Edwards plant, and the larger City of Pekin district that serves students who live just across the Illinois River.
The Hollis bus, on the right in the above photo, will allow the District to provide all-electric bus service to its students and replace a diesel bus the District had been leasing. Ending the lease will help the District offset the decline in property tax revenues, which it expects to see once the plant closes.
The Pekin bus, on the left in the above photo, will replace that district’s oldest diesel bus, a 2010 model. It is bidirectional, meaning that it can feed energy from its battery back into the grid at peak times in addition to pulling energy from the grid to charge its battery. It can also serve as a giant mobile battery and backup power supply for City facilities and services, like its 911 call center.
The buses are the brainchild of Tim Farquer, Superintendent of the Williamsfield School District northwest of Peoria and former health and P.E. teacher. Tim worked with other local educators and students in his own district’s engineering pathway to launch the Bus-2-Grid Initiative, which aims to develop a network of electrified school buses; solar panels on school buildings and bus barns; and bidirectional charging infrastructure. The Edwards settlement grant allowed the Initiative to purchase the area’s first two electric school buses and chargers and add bidirectional charging at the City of Pekin’s bus yard, which houses a larger fleet that Farquer hopes will continue evolving from diesel to electric.
Tim’s interest in bus electrification and solar energy stems from his experiences as a local student, parent, and administrator. He grew up fishing in the Illinois River just downstream from Edwards and spent fifteen years teaching health and physical education. He’s familiar with the dangers of coal soot, diesel, and other particulate pollution and eager to provide cleaner and quieter transportation to Peoria-area students. The electric buses will allow students to breathe cleaner air as they wait to board idling buses and reduce their exposure to noise pollution from diesel motors, setting them up for success in the classroom. They will also serve as a teaching tool for local districts, including Williamsfield, helping engineering-minded students and their families learn about electric vehicles and solar technology. Tim sees the buses as a key opportunity to build community support for further vehicle electrification and solar development in an area where many students grow up working on gas-powered cars and four-wheeler vehicles with their families.
As a school administrator, Tim also understands the economic and climate-resilience benefits of investing in bus electrification, solar power, and vehicle-to-grid technology. Bus fleets are typically school districts’ second-most expensive assets, after their buildings, and school buses spend less time on the road each year than transit buses. In addition to offering cleaner and quieter student transportation, electric school buses can draw power from the grid, store it in their batteries, and serve as backup power sources in the event of local outages or other emergencies. When coupled with community solar development and bidirectional chargers, they can also feed clean energy back into the grid from their batteries when it’s most needed.
NRDC is grateful for this opportunity to support the Bus-2-Grid Initiative and celebrate this latest chapter in Peoria’s clean energy story.