The future is electric for Lake Tahoe Union School District (Guest opinion) | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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The future is electric for Lake Tahoe Union School District (Guest opinion)

Bonnie Turnbull
Guest column

The ultimate mission of the Lake Tahoe Unified School District is to help youth thrive.

Sadly, it is our students, not we, adult decision-makers, who will most suffer climate change. LTUSD must also support the future health and well-being of our students.

So, in 2017, the school board formally resolved to increase reliance on clean, renewable energy sources to power the district’s facilities, in line with and collaboration with, the City of South Lake Tahoe’s recent pledge to power 100% of our electricity use with renewable energy by 2030.

LTUSD administration responded by forming a committee of staff and local experts which articulated four goals of the district sustainability plan:

1. Generate Master Sustainability Plan for district

2. Reduce district energy use by 35%

3. Al Tahoe Modernization and Sustainability Pilot Project

4. Greening the LTUSD fleet

Greening the fleet? — you’re thinking — didn’t LTUSD just purchase four diesel buses?

Yes. That is true, and certainly not ideal, but we are still on the plan:

Year 1 (2019-20) — Inventory the fleet and create district guidelines for replacing vehicles and pilot electric buses.

Year 2 Goal (2020-21) — Evaluate, pilot and expand the bus fleet

Year 3 Goal (2021-22) — “Green Fleet” program

With the assistance from Lion Electric and the all-electric bus garage of Twin Rivers Unified School District, we borrowed an electric bus so staff could explore operations and maintenance.

In June, our very own (grant-funded) 24-passenger electric bus will arrive and a rural bus grant application is under review which could potentially bring us three more buses and charging stations. Imagine, we could be proudly driving four electric buses a year from now.

This is an exciting start.

District administration is exploring other, related, opportunities.

We have applied for a Strong Workforce Grant. Funding would foster the creation of a dual enrollment (STHS/LTCC) electric vehicle maintenance class, so our high school students will be prepared for new job opportunities created by greening our energy systems.

There’s more. Liberty Utilities will fund 16 route bus charging stations for LTUSD, if we can commit to going all-electric.

We would love to make that commitment.

However, we estimate that, at a cost of nearly $400,000 per bus, we would need between $4.4 and $6 million to convert the remainder of our route fleet.

This is a challenging problem. LTUSD is not in the financial position to invest $6 million, though it would mean big daily savings in fuel costs. Diesel buses get only 5 miles per gallon.

There is stiff competition for available grant funds.

The 977 California school districts will need billions to meet state deadlines and go all-electric.

We must explore all options. Do you know of a possible funder? A grant opportunity? Let us know.

But this crisis means more than technical fixes. A transition of this scale and speed requires us all to make a cultural shift, too.

Last fall, the international day of action inspired by Greta Thunberg (Friday’s for Future) inspired the formation of two local youth groups, the high school’s Climate Crew and LTCC’s Tahoe Youth Activist Movement. These passionate student leaders demand we respond to this crisis with action.

So, while LTUSD looks for that 6 million, let us all take smaller steps and consider how we, each, contribute to unhealthy greenhouse gas emissions as we get our children to school.

A huge thank you to those families who ask their children to walk, bike or ride the school bus. Thank you, also, to those who, if you must drive to school, limit engine idling (anything over 15 seconds) while you wait.

You will eliminate some greenhouse gas emissions while protecting our children and staff from the concentration of cancer-causing poisons that accumulate above school drop zones.

This is the space race of our time and we need everyone pulling together.

We must think­­ big, boldly, and creatively, to get this done.

Bonnie Turnbull is a South Lake Tahoe resident, a member of City of South Lake Tahoe 100% Renewable Committee and a LTUSD board member but the views expressed here are solely her own and not that of the district.


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