ABC Newspapers: St. Francis School District shifts to propane-powered school buses

Like spontaneous shivering helps keep a body warm in frigid weather, diesel fuel-powered school bus engines must be kept warm in order to ensure they will start in the morning. To do that, bus drivers keep those engines plugged in all night long during the winter months.

According to ISD 15 transportation director Dean Krause, that necessity plus the price of diesel fuel adds up to a cost of $10,000 per year to keep its fleet of diesel school buses running.

Cedar Creek Community School children disembark from Thomas Built school buses on Sept. 8. By Dec. 1, every bus serving ISD 15 students will be a Thomas Built propane-powered bus. Photo by Sue Austreng

Following the federal implementation of new emission standards in 2007, the school district began testing propane as an alternative fuel. Turns out, propane emits no emissions, propane is cheaper to purchase and propane-powered school bus engines don’t have to be kept warm overnight.

“It’s just better for the environment, better for the kids, better for our budget to go with propane buses,” Krause said.

After testing propane-powered buses for the past three years and recording positive results of those test runs, ISD 15 is ready to transition its entire fleet to propane.

“Propane starts right up. Even when it’s 30 below outside. No problem,” Krause said of the five propane-powered buses used during the three-year test period.

And so, the school district ordered 36 propane-powered buses to complete its fleet of 41 buses. Thomas Built Buses is currently building those additional propane-powered buses and will begin delivering them from its North Carolina manufacturing plant to St. Francis Nov. 1.

“By the end of November, we’ll have an entire fleet of propane-powered buses,” Krause said.

According to Krause those buses will be purchased with a lease-to-buy agreement.

“The cost is $100,000 per bus to purchase, but since we are doing lease-to-buy we can afford all of them,” Krause said.

Additional support for the transition to propane buses is provided by Cash Gas which is providing at no cost six propane tanks and two new dispensers so that the buses can be fueled on site at ISD 15’s transportation building.

“We are feeling really lucky in a lot of different ways with this transition,” Krause said.

In recognition of the school district’s move toward propane power, the Propane Education and Research Council donated a $2,500 check during the school board’s Sept. 28 meeting.

“Diesel has long been the standard in school transportation, but for districts that want to reduce harmful emissions, save money, and create a safer, healthier ride, propane is an excellent alternative,” said Roy Willis, Propane Council president and CEO.

Krause adds that propane buses are also quieter and warmer than diesel.

“Our drivers say they’re quieter to the point that you can’t even hear them running,” he said. “When the kids don’t have to yell over the loud diesel buses, they tend to talk quieter and the whole noise level is reduced.”

As for the temperature inside the propane buses, Krause said, “The propane buses are a lot warmer for the kids. With diesel you have to run them quite awhile to get heat. Last year we even had some parents tell us their kids were too warm in the propane buses, so that shows you how much warmer, how much more comfortable they are in the winter months.”See original article here.