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The all-electric battery-powered Type A Nano Beast school bus, manufactured by GreenPower Motor Company.

First all-electric school bus to hit Upshur County roads Friday

TENNERTON – Buckle up because Upshur County Schools will start testing out its first-ever electric-powered school bus – the Nano Beast – this Friday.

GreenPower Motor Company and Upshur County school administrators unveiled the Nano Beast, a 25-foot purpose-built electric school bus equipped with a wheelchair securement and a curbside lift during a press conference at the Transportation Department on Thursday.

Mark Nestlen, vice president of business development with GreenPower Motor Company, introduces the electric school bus Upshur County Schools will utilize for the next six weeks as part of a state-backed pilot program. / Photos by Katie Kuba

The smaller-style school bus seats 14 individuals with a wheelchair on board and 24 without one.

Mark Nestlen, vice president of business development with GreenPower Motor Company, said the pilot program is designed to answer questions about how electric buses perform in regions similar to Upshur County.

“There is always anxiety with change, and wherever you are in the country, there are three questions everyone asks: How far does it go? How long does it take to charge? And what kind of charger do I have to use?”

Those questions are best answered collectively because how long a bus is charged affects the mileage it gets, Nestlen said. Upshur County is now part of the data collection process involved in answering those questions.

“These pilots are giving real-world answers to those questions,” Nestlen said. “They’re doing it in mountainous regions, in cold weather, in more rural settings and with maybe a narrower road or more difficulty maneuvering around, and that’s really what the pilot’s showing. The eyes of the nation are on West Virginia, and for the next six weeks they’ll be on Upshur County because everybody wants to know how [the electric buses] are working here.”

“They know if they work in West Virginia and on the roads of West Virginia, they’re going to work anywhere,” he added.

Upshur County was selected to participate in a state-backed pilot program authorized by the West Virginia Department of Education, the state Economic Development Authority and Gov. Jim Justice in partnership with GreenPower Motor Company, which recently acquired a manufacturing plant in South Charleston, West Virginia.

The pilot project is designed to evaluate the performance of the electric battery-powered buses in cooler temperatures and on winding, rural roads through more mountainous terrain. According to a GreenPower Motor press release, GreenPower entered into an agreement with the State of West Virginia to manufacture electric school buses starting in mid-2022. Under the terms of that agreement, the state promised to purchase at least $15 million worth of electric school buses.

Upshur County Schools will utilize the bus for six weeks through April 13 as part of Round 4 of the pilot program. It’s the third county to use the specific Type A electric-powered school bus in the Mountain State.

Nestlen reported that thus far, the buses “are performing exactly how they’re supposed to perform.”

“The first thing that a driver will tell you is how much better the vehicles handle. The maneuverability, the turning radius, the ride, the quiet – everything in that vehicle is at a much higher level of performance than a traditional diesel vehicle,” he said.

The bus can travel approximately 110-150 miles on a single 100 percent charge and gets about 200-225 miles per day.

“What we’re seeing in the data from the pilot project is that with proper charging on a level 2 charger both during the day and then full charges at night is that these vehicles will get a school district between 200 and 225 miles a day – maybe up to 250 depending on the conditions of those days,” Nestlen said. “So, it performs the way a school system needs that bus to perform.”

The first deployment of the Nano Beast is scheduled for 6:15 a.m. Friday, March 3 at the Transportation Department, where it will head to Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and Buckhannon-Upshur High School.

Upshur County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison commended Jodie Akers, director of Transportation and Student Services, on her work to participate in the pilot.

“I thank everybody for being here because this is quite the special day for Upshur County, and we’re all looking forward to the impact of this,” Harrison said. “All the credit for this belongs to Jody [Akers] and her team. They’re always looking for ways to improve and ways to do things that will give the most benefit to our kids. Kudos to them.”

Upshur County Board of Education member and former Transportation Director Sherry Dean said she never thought she’d see the day that Upshur County Schools had the opportunity to test out an electric school bus for no cost. Prior to her 15-year tenure as transportation director, Dean drove a school bus for more than two decades.

“We’re going to take it out, we’re going to use it – it has cost us nothing,” Dean said. “I know there are some misconceptions out there that we just bought a $350,000 bus, but this cost us nothing. We’re just trying to help them to see where the imperfections might be, or what needs critiqued, or whether it really fits here, or whether it is really the time for it right now.”

Akers said her staff was excited about the opportunity.

“We know that zero-emissions buses provide a healthier and cleaner environment,” she said. “We look forward to the opportunity to pilot the Nano BEAST!”

Pictured, from left, are bus driver Brenda Hyre, Transportation Director Jodie Akers, Interim Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison, Interim Assistant Superintendent Melinda Stewart and BOE member Sherry Dean.
The Nano Beast is unveiled Thursday during a press conference at the Upshur County Schools Transportation Department on Tallmansville Road.

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