A rebate program from the EPA would have made the buses free or nearly free for RSU 20.
In this Sept. 29, 2021, file photo, a diesel-powered school bus is shown parked at a school in Miami. Credit: Wilfredo Lee / AP

Searsport-area schools won’t be getting electric buses after the Regional School Unit 20 board of directors rejected an offer to join a rebate program.

The program would have made the buses free or nearly free for the district.

Anthony Bagley, chair of the board of directors, said at the Tuesday night meeting that both the transportation director and Building and Grounds Committee did not recommend accepting the buses. The board voted unanimously to reject the offer.

The buses would have been purchased through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Rebate program. The EPA would have reimbursed up to $345,000 for each bus and $20,000 for each charging station that a district purchased. Electric buses cost an average of $400,000, so the rebate would offset most or all of the purchase costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Other districts, including those representing schools in Mount Desert Island, Vinalhaven and Falmouth, have accepted the buses. But in RSU 20, cost concerns were too much to overcome.

“We’re not against the green movement … a lot of people don’t realize that when these buses charge outside of a cold night they use electricity just to keep the battery,” Bagley said.

Although the Maine Department of Education said the program is intended to significantly lower or eliminate the costs of the bus, charging equipment and labor, Bagley said that there were concerns the rebate wouldn’t offset the cost to charge the buses if it exceeds what the district currently pays for diesel. There were also concerns about operating the buses in cold weather and on longer runs such as to sporting events in other areas of the state.

One bus driver also said they would refuse to drive a certain brand of electric bus available to the district through the program, Bagley said.

“They did not feel comfortable driving the bus,” Bagley said.