Lodi Unified School District may be one step closer to replacing five diesel buses with clean-air alternatives.

During tonight’s meeting, the LUSD Board of Education will vote on a resolution approving a master agreement with the California Department of Transportation allowing the district to access federal and state grants to help fund the purchase of five buses fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) instead of diesel.

In March 2014, the district was first approved for a grant from Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) and the San Joaquin Council of Governments (SJCOG) funds to replace nine diesel buses with new CNG vehicles, with a recommended list of projects that covered the 2016-17 and 2017-18 fiscal years.

Although the district is currently able to access funds awarded in 2014 to help cover the cost of five new CNG buses, the district must first submit all required forms — including the master agreement — to Caltrans.

The buses cost approximately $214,000 each, resulting in a total estimated cost of $1,071,000 for all five buses.

The CMAQ grant will provide $481,500 in funds, and the district will contribute $420,000 from two of its transportation funds and $168,500 from its general fund to replace five older diesel buses with new CNG-powered buses.

“Compressed natural gas is about as clean as you can get,” Leonard Kahn, chief business officer for the school district, said.

Diesel buses produce 27.45 grams of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter per mile, Kahn said, whereas CNG buses produce only 0.16 grams per mile.

Although electric vehicles also produce low emission levels similar to those of CNG vehicles, Kahn said electric vehicles still rely on electricity produced by fossil fuels such as coal whereas CNG vehicles do not.

“The only issue with compressed natural gas is that it doesn’t pack as much energy per gallon as diesel,” Kahn said.

Despite their lower emission levels, Kahn said CNG buses have a range of approximately 350 miles while diesel buses have a range of 700 miles, meaning that CNG buses must be refueled more often at central fueling stations such as the district’s bus depot.

“The district budgets about $12,915 per semester for CNG fuel,” Kahn said.

Should the board approve the resolution during tonight’s meeting, Kahn said the district could be able to purchase the new buses “on or after October 2019.”

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