EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When students in Westerly and Block Island head back to school this year, they’ll be a part of history.

That’s because for the first time ever in Rhode Island, electric school buses will be bringing them to class.

“It’s good for the children, it’s good for the community, it’s good for our air,” said Susan Guarino, transportation director for Westerly Public Schools.

Westerly’s school district purchased two electric school buses, largely thanks to federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act funds administered by the R.I. Department of Environmental Management. The buses will be rolling on the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“I think it’s been shown that electric transportation is going to be a big part of what we do going forward, whether it’s personal vehicles, school vehicles, delivery trucks,” said Mark Garceau, Superintendent of Westerly Public Schools. “So we’re excited to be a part of that.”

Block Island’s electric bus was fully funded by an anonymous donor, through the Block Island Solar Initiative. The vehicle will be in operation sometime over the next few weeks.

“This is a great opportunity for the Block Island school and the greater community,” said Robert Gerardi, Superintendent of the New Shoreham School Department. “We’re focused on conservation, reducing our carbon footprint.”

Both districts worked with Anderson Motors to purchase the Blue Bird Electric Buses. Together, all parties worked with their respective utility districts to install charging infrastructure and make their plans a reality.

Westerly’s transportation director tells 12 News by replacing one of their aging diesel buses in their fleet with an electric bus, they’re reducing carbon emissions by 33,000 pounds a year.

“Basically, its weight in carbon emissions is taken out of the air,” Guarino said.

While Westerly and Block Island will be operating the first electric school buses in the state, more could soon be on the way to Rhode Island.

Superintendents in both districts have already applied for new federal funding for additional electric buses through Anderson Motors, and they’re not alone.

Jim Anderson told 12 News that schools in Barrington, Cranston, Woonsocket and Newport have also applied for funding through the EPA’s clean school bus program.

The money would cover between three-fourths of the cost of an electric bus, or the total cost, depending on the district’s need. The funding is critical, considering the electric buses cost more than double what traditional diesel ones do.

“We feel there’s a great spot for that in the school bus industry, through the logistics,” Anderson said. “To benefit the community and kids with clean air, we feel there’s a strong following there, the tradition to move forward and grow from this spot.

“We are so grateful to be part of this, first in the state,” Anderson added. “It’s history making.”

The additional funding for more electric buses in Rhode Island will be announced in October.

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