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Central Okanagan School District looking to lower carbon footprint

6 electric powered school buses part of that effort
Central Okanagan Public Schools now has six electric-powered vehicles in its school bus fleet. (File photo)

Harold Schock says he has the best job with Central Okanagan Public Schools.

Schock is the energy and sustainability manager for the school district.

“I have a fun job and great people to work with,” said Schock.

The ‘fun’ part undoubtedly comes from how the school district can embrace new and evolving technology to help lower its greenhouse gas footprint.

In delivering an energy sustainability update to the planning and public facilities committee meeting last Wednesday, Schock’s report outlined the school district’s focus on embracing energy efficiency in its buildings through such measures as upgrading lighting systems, improving insulation and optimizing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

As well, they are seeking opportunities to lessen reliance on fossil fuels through other renewable energy options, such as solar panels installed at both H.S. Grenda Middle and École Dr. Knox Middle schools, to generate clean and sustainable energy.

He spoke of the opportunities that evolving technology presents from heating a classroom to powering a bus, but also like anything new, opportunity for change also presents a learning curve for adaptability.

Schock’s presentation highlighted the transportation aspect, where the school district has already purchased six new electric battery powered buses over the last three years, and is assessing the pros and cons of that technology with the need to purchase more replacement buses on the horizon.

The school district in 2022 participated in the Fraser Basin Council’s “Plug In BC Program” which offered $100,000 in funding to support the purchase of electric buses, and received rebates totalling $50,000 from the Association of School Transportation Services of BC to support the uptake of battery electric school bus vehicles.

Schock says students and the bus drivers love the electric buses, but reliability and travel mileage limitations remain issues.

“Like any new technology there are bugs that need to be worked out and we are going through that process,” he said. “We are learning as we go.”

Those bugs include new charging capabilities for bus batteries in an hour as opposed to being parked and plugged in overnight, travel distance limitations of 100-150 kilometres despite manufacturers saying there is a 200 km travel radius, that travel distance dropping to 50 km in winter when the temperature drops below -10C, and certification programs to train school district mechanics to work on the voltage charging system.

There are only three certified battery powered bus repair outlets in B.C., with the closest to Kelowna being in Vernon.

Schock noted the school district has been forward thinking beyond just finding energy savings.

It has been shortlisted for a $2 million federal government grant to address infrastructure needs in working towards further electrification, and is selling carbon fuel credits to further fund energy reduction efforts.

“That is very forward thinking by our school district and others are starting to take notice,” Schock said of the carbon fuel credit sales revenue potential.

“Money that we saved on utility costs is money that can be put back in the classroom.”

READ MORE: Wilden Middle School tops Central Okanagan wishlist

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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