Mount Desert Island Is Home to Maine’s First Electric School Bus

And the Nature Conservancy says it’s providing valuable lessons to other school districts across the state.

Mount Desert Island High School student boarding the first electric school bus in Maine
Photo courtesy of Sarah Madronal/TNC

In 2021, Mount Desert Island High School purchased and deployed the first electric school bus in Maine. Many students and parents in the community advocated for the project, and a Maine Department of Environmental Protection grant funded the purchase. A Climate to Thrive, a local nonprofit organization working to address climate change, provided support on equipment specifications and implementation.

The Nature Conservancy in Maine took a special interest in the project, which aligns with its climate goals and vision of a healthy future for people and nature. TNC Maine contracted with the national clean-energy nonprofit VEIC to study the bus’s performance and determine whether anticipated emissions reductions and cost savings were realized.

“A big question for electric vehicles in cold weather is range,” says Jeremy Cluchey, director of public affairs for TNC Maine. “Even during winter months, when the temperature was at or below freezing, the average estimated range of the electric school bus was around 120 miles — more than enough for its routes.” The study also found that the electric bus was three times as energy efficient as comparable diesel buses, and that the school district’s fossil-fuel emissions were reduced by nearly 14 metric tons of carbon dioxide during the study period — the equivalent to that captured by 638 mature trees in one year.

The first electric school bus in Maine is parked at Mount Desert Island High School.
The first electric school bus in Maine parked at Mount Desert Island High School. Photo courtesy of Sarah Madronal/TNC

Greater efficiency means the school district’s operational expenses for the bus decreased 51 percent, saving 999 gallons of diesel fuel over the school year. The electric drivetrain also had no issues, another factor in significantly lower direct maintenance costs than the diesel buses in the fleet to which it was compared. The report concluded that electric buses will likely be a beneficial technology for other rural Maine schools.

The staff at Mount Desert Island High School certainly agrees, and its first electric school bus has logged over 41,000 miles to date. Now, the school is seeking more electric buses for its fleet, including one with a wheelchair lift — and it isn’t the only school doing so. In the fall of 2022, 13 Maine school districts secured grants worth $13.3 million to bring 34 electric buses to Maine neighborhoods through the federal EPA Clean School Bus Program.

The best evidence for how the Mount Desert Island High School bus is performing may come from its driver, Andrew Keblinsky. “I like that it’s quiet and has zero diesel fumes, making it a better space for me and my students to breathe,” he recently said. “If someone put me back in a diesel bus, I would quit.”

As rural school districts around Maine consider how to take advantage of grant programs and bring electric school buses into their communities, they can learn a lot from the people of Mount Desert Island and their experience.

Learn more about how The Nature Conservancy is working in collaboration with communities around Maine here. 14 Main St. #401, Brunswick. 207-729-5181.