County schools to buy propane-fueled buses

Robert Houk • Jan 16, 2020 at 9:00 AM

The Washington County School System is buying five propane-powered school buses with the help of an environmental grant resulting from a $10 billion legal settlement in a case that saw Volkswagen admit cheating on its diesel emission tests.

The county’s Budget Committee voted Wednesday to approve spending $464,560 from capital funds to buy the propane-fueled buses, with the understanding Washington County will receive a share of the $102,500 settlement grant.

Jarrod Adams, the special projects manager of county schools, told the committee that while the propane buses cost more on the front end — $92,900 each compared to $86,500 for diesel — they will “save the county money down the road” in the maintenance needed to meet environmental standards and emission goals.

“There are so many moving parts to make diesel compliant,” Adams said.

The German automaker admitted in court on September 2015 secretly installing software in nearly 500,000 vehicles to falsify its government exhaust tests. Adams said the school system’s grant writer was able to take advantage of the Volkswagen settlement by securing the $102,500 from the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition.

That money would go to Washington County — which had already agreed to fund replacement school buses for the school system from its capital reserves —  to help offset the cost to buy the propane-fueled vehicles. The grant also requires that five diesel buses are permanently decommissioned by the county.

Adams said the school system is asking that $31,745 from the environmental grant go directly to Washington County’s coffers. That amount represents the difference in the cost of propane over diesel vehicles.

He said the remaining amount would go to the school system to help meet a “pressing need” to buy vans for athletic teams at the county’s two high schools. Adams said the proposal would be a “win-win” for both parties.

“We can help each other out,” he said.

The request now goes before the full County Commission, which meets on Jan. 27.