Tok receives Alaska’s very first Electric School Bus

Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 5:01 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -The town of Tok in the eastern interior of Alaska has received Alaska’s very first electric school bus.

Stretch Blackard, Co-Owner of Tok Transportation visited with us to explain how this new electric system fares in the cold winter months. “I do believe this is one of the coldest climates for an electric school bus,” said Blackard.

Tok Transportation bought the electric school bus earlier this year with assistance from a $400,000 state grant to find out whether electric vehicles and renewable energy can be harnessed to work in our cold climate, a notoriously harsh place for heavy machinery.

“One expected challenge was keeping the interior of the bus at a reasonable temperature. The law requires we have it at forty five degrees inside the passenger compartment of the bus -- so when you’re running at negative 40, 50, and 60 [degree] temperatures, trying to keep that temperature up in the bus can be a challenge, even for the diesel buses,” said Blackard.

The grant from the Alaska Energy Authority Program exists to invest in buses that produce fewer emissions. Seven school districts around Alaska that received funding from the program acquired cleaner diesel-powered buses. The Alaska Gateway School District in Tok used its share to invest in even cleaner technology, so far to great success.

“So far we’ve been down to negative 35, and with no auxiliary heaters the bus had been able to maintain well above 45 degree temperature inside the bus,” said Blackard.

To offset how quickly batteries are drained in the cold, Blackard invested in a solar powered battery charger.

“For our area the electric costs are fairly expensive, so I had to add solar to help charge the bus; and because our electricity is created by diesel power, we wanted to keep the emissions back down where they’re supposed to be. So we’re helping to charge with solar,” said Blackard.

Inside the Tok Transportation “Bus Barn” garage, there is an older diesel bus ready to take to the road in case the electric bus encounters problems as we move deeper into the winter season; but so far the success of this electrical arctic experiment has left that diesel bus off the roads, emitting zero exhaust.

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