Keelan: Let’s say no to an $800K electric bus

By Don Keelan

When I came to Vermont some 37 years ago, I was impressed with the frugality and practical approach taken by the folks I first encountered. Never was this so affirmed than at Robert Todd Lincoln’s Hildene, in Manchester.

In 1983, as a new Hildene volunteer, I was given a tour of the historic home by the then chair of the board of trustees, Oscar V. Johnson (1911-2002). Oscar was one of the original founders of Hildene, and he pointed out to me the flag pole in front of the 24-room Georgian revival house. I had said to him, “What an unusual flag pole.”

Oscar noted that when the Friends of Hildene closed on the property with the Christian Science Church, in August of 1978, the Friends had only $800 or so left in their checkbook. He wanted a flag pole, so he went to the local plumbing supply store and bought three pipes and threaded them together. A globe was required, so he purchased a toilet bowl float and painted it gold. Forty-two years later, the pole and globe are still in place — Vermont frugality at its best.

Don Keelan

What I had embraced about Vermonters came to a screeching halt on Jan. 11, 2020, when I read Keith Whitcomb, Jr.’s piece in the Rutland Herald. According to Whitcomb, the Marble Valley Regional Transit District (MVRTD) is planning on buying an electric powered transit bus for about $800,000, or twice the cost of a diesel powered bus. And plans are for two of them. It gets even more insane when you add the additional cost for the charging infrastructure, estimated to cost $150,000.

MVRTD will not be using its cash to pay for the difference between a diesel bus and an electric one — in this case, two of them at an additional cost of $800,000. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VDEC) and Vermont Energy Investment Corp. (Efficiency Vermont) will contribute the funds from the Volkswagen settlement.

Over and above the base cost of $800,000, there will be $950,000 spent to acquire the two electric buses that may or may not meet the assigned task. Unless there have been vast improvements since 2013, when MVRTD had its last electric bus, it could be that the buses still won’t be able to climb the hills of Rutland. So why not wait for the technology to catch up, as well as reductions in cost that will ultimately come into place?

If the end goal is to reduce the carbon footprint that exists in Rutland today, why not use the funds from VDEC and Efficiency Vermont for a better alternative — the weatherization of Rutland homes?

If those in charge of the bus deal were to allocate and donate $3,000 to Rutland homeowners for weatherization projects, they would be able to improve 316 residential properties. This would go a long way in reducing the carbon footprint from residential fossil heating. It would save the homeowner substantial dollars in heating cost, make homes more comfortable and lower the use of fossil fuels.

In time, MVRTD should have electric buses that will cost much less and be more efficient than what is available today. Brilliant minds throughout the world are working on this subject, so why the rush to spend so much that will have such a small impact?

Whitcomb noted that the acquisition of the buses will be several years away. Why wait? Use the funds that are now available to take care of the homes in Rutland and make a climate impact today.

There has been, and continues to be, a great deal of emotion leaking into what should be sound decisions on how to bring Vermont’s greenhouse gases into compliance. Maybe it’s time to assess what is being planned to see if it meets the common-sense sanity test that once was the foundation of those who made this state what it is today.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia/Trougnouf
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14 thoughts on “Keelan: Let’s say no to an $800K electric bus

  1. The WSJ is doing a video series about electric vehicles. Here’s the first one
    https://www.wsj.com/video/series/shifting-to-electric/the-electric-vehicle-road-test/E390D3C3-5437-4E64-B2F9-8AD8598DEE5A

    Reporters in different parts of the US and the world test drive different EVs.
    Summary:
    — Using heat or AC in cold and hot weather reduces range
    — Range Anxiety is real, to the point of being traumatic, for long distance trips
    — Range projections can vary dramatically depending on conditions
    — EVs work best in cities and for local trips
    — Lack of charging stations is a problem except in China
    — Tesla has the best charging network
    — EVs are expensive, even with subsidies
    — Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting while charging on road trips — one 10 hour trip in a gas vehicle took 30 hours
    — Keep a gasoline vehicle for longer trips

  2. Massachusetts Electric School Bus Program is a Flop

    Here is an evaluation of the MA electric school bus program.

    Yes, it is a flop. It did not save any energy costs. See URL
    https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/04/30/Mass%20DOER%20EV%20school%20bus%20pilot%20final%20report_.pdf

    “V2G or V2B electric school bus systems is most likely not cost-effective at present”. See page 4 of 45

    The Vermont house energy/enviro committee also has the inane urge to buy the same school buses, even though I wrote them about the MA flop.

    Here are the Electric Bus flop promoters in Vermont

    CBranagan@leg.state.vt.us; CBray@leg.state.vt.us; MMacDonald@leg.state.vt.us; MSullivan@leg.state.vt.us; PLefebvre@leg.state.vt.us; RMcCormack@leg.state.vt.us; VLyons@leg.state.vt.us; CParent@leg.state.vt.us; CMcCormack@leg.state.vt.us; LSibilia@leg.state.vt.us; MYantachka@leg.state.vt.us; RForguites@leg.state.vt.us; RChesnut-Tangerman@leg.state.vt.us; SCarr@leg.state.vt.us; BCampion@leg.state.vt.us;
    JRodgers@leg.state.vt.us; CPearson@leg.state.vt.us; rawestman@gmail.com;

    It seems not to sink in they are throwing good money into a black hole.

    Are they hoping for a different outcome in Vermont with hills and snowy roads?

    Those buses would need 4-wheel drive.

  3. Vtrans would see a major increase in its budget and staff to be paid for by TCI carbon taxes, and other fees and surcharges

    Vtrans has a long list of initiatives to restructure Vermont transportation, including:

    – $380 million for railroad corridors. All of Vermont would be paying for railroad corridors connecting St. Albans, Burlington, Waterbury and Montpelier
    https://vtrans.vermont.gov/sites/aot/files/Montpelier-St.%20Albans%20Commuter%20Rail%20Study%20Revised.pdf

    – Bicycle paths at $2 million per mile. All of Vermont would be paying for bicycle paths for Vermont’s larger urban areas.

    – Electric buses at $350,000 each plus EV chargers. All of Vermont would be paying for electric buses and chargers for Vermont’s larger urban areas

    – Higher subsidies for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Vermonters, especially in rural areas, likely will not be buying EVs unless they are SUVs, minivans, and ¼-ton pick-ups; and have 4WD; and cost less than $30,000

    – Moving tens of thousands of lower income households from rural areas into highly insulated/highly sealed apartment buildings closer to urban centers so mass transit (electric buses, electric vans, electric commuter rail, electric motor cycles, etc.) would be more fully utilized. Those apartment buildings would have heat pumps for heating and cooling, or be heated with biofuels, and have solar systems and batteries and EV chargers

  4. The VT Transportation Department wish list, to be financed by CARBON TAXES, will lead to a big expansion of government intrusion on the transportation sector.

    It is totally inapplicable in RURAL Vermont, except Burlington, Montpelier, etc.
    The REST OF THE STATE would pay for it.

    The state will collect money from fuel dealers that have to buy a share of a limited supply of CO2 allotments at auction.

    Each year the allotment supply gets reduced, somewhat like a musical chair game, and the cost of allotments is bid higher and higher, just like a carbon tax.

    Fuel dealers merely will raise prices to cover their costs, and when their allotments are used up have to stop selling fuels.
    I wonder how that would work during a cold period.

    The state will use the money to make “investments” in mass transit.

    4-wheel drive EVs for the poor, not yet on the market at reasonable prices
    Electric buses, at $300,000 each, for the poor
    Heat pumps for the poor, energy savings $200/y, per VT-DPS survey
    Weatherizing for the poor
    Batteries for the poor
    Solar panels for the poor
    The list is long

    Blittersdorf’s ancient, claptrap, museum trains will be dusted off, at great expense, and declared a winner.
    All sorts of commercially dubious projects will be started with subsidies, and will be kept alive with subsidies

  5. We hear that electric cars don’t like Winter, both because the batteries lose power,

    And that trying to use defrost or especially in cabin heat, drains the batteries FAST!

    Does this mean the busses will not be heated,
    the driver, and passengers, below freezing all day?!

    • $800,000 for each bus would pay for a heck of a lot Uber/ Lyft rides in small economical cars, custom rides for every rider, without all the overhead, and all the infrastructure needed for massive electric installations for each and every bus every bus. No busses running almost empty most of the day.

  6. The state’s physical infrastructure is falling apart; Its economy is going in the opposite direction of the national economy; It’s losing its population as a result of self-serving policy making by spending money it doesn’t have over the practical needs of its citizens; Depression, drug and alcohol consumption stats have been steadily rising as people realize there’s no way out of this maze. Yet, our intrepid leadership doggedly pursues its fantasies. Why won’t our sacred media address these realities? This is incredible.

  7. $800K bus? Why only one. There should be a fleet in every town. How about 0NE? NO WAY!!!One’s far too many!!!

  8. Electric buses, electric trolleys were once popular. They largely disappeared – I presume because they were not economically competitive. When electricity once again becomes competitive with other means of propulsion we’ll have electric buses again. Don’t push it. Technology in power generation is also in the rapid development stage which mitigates against investments in proposed large installations that will be obsolete by the time they’re operational. There’s not a case of pressing emergency and we have a current tried and proven technology. Vermont isn’t going to change the climate.

  9. Hey, Don Keelan: Let’s say ” no ” to an $800K electric bus, well then don’t come to
    Burlington as the Governor & Mayor “Celebrated ” Two ( 2 ) new electric buses for
    the Queen City, and your town will be next like it or not !!

    And the funding for the two E-buses, which together only cost $2 million including
    the charging equipment and GMT facility work, a collaboration provided by partners,
    Oh yeah, ” partners ” that would also be the Burlington Home Owners the City’s cash
    cow !!

    So maybe with these new buses in Burlington, you’ll see more than the normal
    four or five riders or empty bus on the streets……….. I see it every day…….

    So my question is why does Burlington need ” New Buses ” as most of the streets
    have been cut down with flower pots, corner post, fancy colored striping for bicyclist
    but they forgot to fix the and potholes every fifty feet…..

    Well Don, welcome to Liberal Politician thinking, your towns next.

  10. Don, the Volkswagen settlement funds being used to subsidize electric buses and electric vehicle infrastructure are very limited in what they can be used for. Fifteen percent can be used for electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The rest must be used for sulfer dioxide reduction – meaning replacing existing diesel engines with less polluting alternatives. By law the funds cannot be used for weatherization or any of a dozen other great uses. So these decisions are not being made emotionally but under the constraints of legal settlements.

    • So let me get this straight Mr. Chesnut-Tangerman. You say that it was as a result of the Volkswagen settlement. That’s fine and although I suspect the terms of settlement were negotiated specifically towards a specific goal why squander it away on a white elephant. This is what happens when taxpayer funds are handed off to a non government run operation like Efficiency Vermont. Perhaps that’s something the Legislature needs to address. All of the legal settlements that the AG collects seem to get spent on some kind of pet projects. Wouldn’t it be prudent to use some of that to pay down our debt? After all, shouldn’t it be up to the taxpayers as to where and what that money is being spent on? Just a thought.

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