John Howard: Electric school buses and peak electricity periods

  • AP file photo AP file photo

Published: 12/6/2021 6:00:40 PM
Modified: 12/6/2021 6:00:12 PM

On Thursday, Oct. 28, the South Hadley Electric Light Department had a very interesting meeting on the subject of using batteries to cover the peak period of electrical usage on hot days in the summer.

The cost of a 1.5-megawatt battery (plus installation) to cover two hours of the peak time was estimated to be about $2 million. The payback for such a battery is six to seven years. A peaking power source is used for about 12 hours during the year. The location of the peak power source is important for its footprint and for the wiring of power distribution. It was also mentioned that battery technology is where computer technology was years ago. It is growing rapidly. What is installed today will be outdated in a few years.

For all these reasons it was recommended that SHELD wait a few years and enter this slowly. I agree! Batteries will be much better in the future.

There is another answer to the peaking problem — electric school buses. Amherst has already started the changeover. The present diesel buses are highly toxic to those who ride in them, not to mention the environment around them. We are poisoning ourselves, and even more important, our children with many disease-causing chemicals.

Electric school buses are used not only for transport but also as peaking batteries. They can be charged at night when electric rates are low. In South Hadley we are forced to sell our extra nighttime power at a loss. School buses are ideal for battery use as they follow a fixed route day after day. They are also not used very much in the summer when peak times happen.

Electric school buses are not cheap and in South Hadley they are owned by a third party. They could fulfill the school department needs and solve SHELD’s problems. When the school bus company purchases a new bus, they would pay for the usual diesel bus cost and the South Hadley school system and SHELD would pay the added cost of an electric battery.

The school bus company would pay SHELD for the electricity to charge the bus. The South Hadley school department would install charging stations. When the bus was used as a peaker plant SHELD would pay the school department for that electricity at a lower rate then they do now. Everyone would spend a little and get a little. Gradually our climate would be much cleaner.

The above is just one possibility. I’m sure there are many. I don’t see this happening in the next year or even the next three, but it is a good thing to plan for. The Environmental Protection Agency already has grants for electric school buses. If the bills currently in Washington are passed, we may find new government subsidies for school buses. At that point we will need to have some notion of what to do or we will lose out. Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.

John Howard lives in South Hadley.


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