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A new fleet of electric school buses hit the road in Durham

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The Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham is now home to a fleet of electric school buses. Made possible through a partnership with Duke Energy and their cleaner energy initiative, the school now has four electric school buses in operation. 

“And with these four electric buses, and four scheduled to arrive next year, we will be one of the first in the nation to have a full fleet of electric buses,” said Samantha Amaral, senior director of operations and human resources for the school.

The school’s leadership team was present at the ceremony to unveil the buses, including Amaral, Executive Director Donnell Cannon, and Principal Jeremy Wall. Amaral was the ideator and manager of the electric buses project. Representatives from Duke Energy, the city of Durham, school staff, and families were also in attendance.

Donnell Cannon (left), Samantha Amaral (middle), and Jeremy Wall (right) cut the ribbon debuting Maureen Joy Charter School’s new electric school buses. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

As of June 2023, the World Resources Institute reported that there are nearly 6,000 electric buses either ordered, delivered, or operating in the United States. The growth in adoption of these vehicles in many places is largely thanks to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean School Bus Rebate Program, which aims to “make electric buses the American standard.”

While the first four electric buses at Maureen Joy Charter School are from a grant with Duke Energy, the four vehicles that are scheduled to arrive next year are from the EPA Clean School Bus Rebate Program. Two other charter schools in North Carolina will be replacing their diesel powered buses with electric ones as well: Discovery Charter School in Durham and Mina Charter School in Lee County.

The Department of Environmental Quality is distributing 161 new school buses across the state, including 43 electric buses. Here is the list of school buses funded and their designated districts.

Maureen Joy is excited that their students, the majority of whom are from minority groups, are getting to experience being a part of leading the charge on environmental sustainability.

“A population that isn’t normally considered first in most things is now leading the way in the nation. Our scholars past, present and future will be able to look at their school and say ‘I went there.’ My school will change the nation. My school made a difference in the world,” said Amaral.

Samantha Amaral, of Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham, takes a ride on one of the school’s new electric school buses. Alli Lindenberg/EducationNC

There are several benefits of electric school buses compared to diesel powered vehicles. According to the EPA, these benefits include:

  • Reduced tailpipe pollution, meaning students, drivers, and members of the community will be exposed to significantly less harmful diesel emissions.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel school buses.
  • Reduced maintenance costs, including less brake wear due to regenerative braking and no engine or exhaust system maintenance.
  • Potential for reduced fuel costs compared to diesel depending on electricity costs.
  • Quiet, clean operation.
  • Potential for fleets to partner with local utilities to feed power back into the grid when buses are not in use and electricity demand is high.

While the practical benefits far outweigh the cost for this school, the choice to go electric was more than just a financially and environmentally sustainable solution. It was also a mission-driven decision.

“These electric buses are more than just vehicles. They are a testament to our unwavering commitment to our young people and to our planet,” Cannon said. “And so with every mile that our buses travel, we reduce our carbon footprint, we breathe cleaner air, and we pave the way for a healthier community here in Durham. These buses are vessels of their dreams, conduits of knowledge, and they signify more than just a ride to school. They represent a journey towards an amazing, more powerful, brighter future.” 

Editor’s Note: The Duke Foundation supports the work of EdNC. Donnell Cannon serves on EducationNC’s Board of Directors.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.