Why not use electric-powered school buses in northwestern BC

Terrace, BC columnist looks to example set by California school district

TERRACE

By Andre Carrel

The job and tax revenue promises associated with the various planned liquefied natural gas (LNG) project(s) feature many of the forecasting gimmicks described by researchers Tetlock and Gardner in The Art and Science of Prediction and Nobel economists Akerlof and Shiller in Phishing for Phools. The provincial government’s offer is more Hallelujah Chorus than economic equilibria.

LNG forecasts, typical of any megaproject announcement, promise tax revenues in the millions of dollars and jobs by the thousands. They never identify the source of those new taxes (income, property, sales), nor do they identify the collecting government (federal, provincial, municipal). As to the promised jobs, a job includes anything from casual part-time minimum wage employment to bonus-rich chief executive positions.

In terms of economic significance, there is no difference between natural gas, oil, and coal in any form and from any source. Raw materials are essential to any economy, but enduring wealth is created by added value of producing something – anything – from raw materials.

Rather than allowing our debate on the economy to be dominated by yet another mega project, we ought to step back, pause, and give a thought to what the future may hold.

Canada declared its intention to ratify the December 2015 Paris agreement on the environment. This agreement calls for the world economy – that includes Terrace – to be carbon-neutral sometime after 2050, but before 2100.

The timeline may appear generous, but from the perspective of a person of my age, years go by quickly. The global population is still growing, and if we add to that moderate economic growth, how are we to achieve a carbon-neutral economy? We need to start working toward that goal now. We cannot waste time; we must create opportunities.

We could look to the 2010 renewable energy pilot project of BC Hydro and the City of Terrace for inspiration. BC Hydro lent the city a used hybrid, which the city then bought in 2011. BC Hydro installed solar panels on City Hall to help off-set the power used by the electric car. Kings Canyon Unified School District in San Joaquim, California did such a project on a vastly larger scale in 2014.

It converted its entire fleet of school buses to all-electric. The school district did not purchase a fleet of all-electric buses; it converted its existing buses by replacing their conventional fuel powertrains with electric powertrains in their existing chassis.

School buses are ideally suited for conversion to all-electric drive. They are operated for relatively short durations and spend many hours parked where their batteries can be recharged.

Terrace has the trades and shops with the necessary capacity and skills required to convert our school bus fleet to all-electric drive. The experience gained from such a project could be applied to other heavy-duty vehicles in Terrace, both municipal and private. We could also look ahead to generating our own electricity to power our local electric vehicle fleet. We should analyze the effectiveness of the city’s solar panels and explore the feasibility of wind turbines for that purpose.

We could design and construct a power charging infrastructure to service a growing fleet of electric vehicles in our town.

All of this would require money. However, as the Vancouver Olympics and our military engagements abroad have proven, when a project is backed by political will, money is never a problem. Projects of this kind would not only generate local employment and tax revenues, it may attract investment and, as a bonus, would reduce our school district’s energy costs over the long term.

City council, First Nations, the school board and Chamber of Commerce should meet to establish a joint committee giving it a broad mandate, clear objectives, and reasonable timelines to get the ball rolling.

Forget the LNG bandwagon. Instead of chasing mega project dreams, look to the city’s 2010 pilot project as an incentive to build an environmentally responsible local economy.

Retired public sector administrator Andre Carrel lives in Terrace, B.C.