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Minnesota's first e-bus hits the road

Wind powers Minnesota's first 100 percent electric school bus, thanks to renewable energy credits. The eLion can travel 100 miles on a charge and meets or exceeds Minnesota's engine and safety standards, according to specs by manufacturer Lion Electric Co. of Quebec. Kara Hildreth / RiverTown Mulitmedia contributor

LAKEVILLE, Minn. — Future yellow school bus wheels will go round and round with electricity harnessed from wind power.

Three partners collaborated to roll out the electric school bus pilot program: Schmitty & Sons, Dakota Electric Association of Farmington and Great River Energy, the power supplier for Dakota Electric.

"It has been a really cool project and we have had great partners with Dakota Electric and Great River Energy, so it has been awesome to work on," said Mike Forbord, who works in divisional operations with Schmitty & Sons of Lakeville, Minn., that operates a fleet of 100 school buses serving area districts.

"You are always a little bit skeptical of a new, emerging technology when it first comes out, but we went to the factory in May and it turned out to be a great plus and a great product," Forbord said.

"One of the best things about it is that it is quiet and there is no sound," Forbord added. Unlike a diesel school bus, there is no loud engine rumble and no fuel-burning odor. The electric bus plays "awareness" music from an Mp3 file for students' safety.

"Dakota Electric brings cutting-edge technology, energy efficiency and is environmentally friendly and so this is really the bus of the future," said Joe Miller, public relations director with Dakota Electric Association in Farmington.

"It is really cool because it is the first electric school bus in Minnesota and the Midwest," said Jane Siebenaler, business account executive with Dakota Electric Association.

Powered 100 percent by electricity, the bus takes advantage of the Revolt program that allows any electric vehicle owner to receive charging generated from 100 percent wind power. Able to travel 100 miles on a charge, the electric school bus will be plugged in overnight for four to six hours.

"We really feel like electric vehicles will be around awhile and the technology is the perfect fit for a school bus, because we know exactly how many miles are on school routes," Miller said, plus companies will be charging buses at night electricity demand is at its lowest.

Unveiled earlier this month, the bus is on a tour and will make a few stops in the Great River Energy service territory, Miller said.

The pilot program aims to demonstrate how electric buses perform in a cold weather climate and on suburban and rural bus routes. The program also will study the economic and emissions benefits from e-buses.

"For the first time in our research of alternative-powered buses, we found an option that makes practical sense," Forbord said.

"We are hoping that it is an opportunity for other bus companies to see technology and see if it is a good fit for them down the road as it is mainstreamed when the use grows," Miller said.

Canadian firm Lion Electric Co. of Quebec manufactures the buses. A few California schools have introduced them. An electric bus can save a school district $12,000 annually with costs associated with operations and maintenance, according to the company. Projected savings could exceed $180,000 over the life of the school bus.

"The electric bus gives off no emissions, fumes or exhaust coming from it, and so it is the bus of the future," Siebenaler said.

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