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Environment

Cajon Valley school buses deliver students — and power

An East County district is the first in the nation to power electric buses and also send electricity back to the grid.

A small school district in East County is pioneering a project that could become a big deal for the electric grid when demand for power climbs.

It all centers on a $95 million grant that paid for several fully electric school buses for the Cajon Valley Union School District and the infrastructure to operate them.

The buses will be delivering more than children. They will be propping up the grid that fuels their classrooms.

San Diego Gas & Electric officials installed six high-capacity chargers at the district’s bus yard, and those fueling stations can put juice into the buses — or draw energy out of their batteries.

This is the first project in the country to allow for two-way energy transfer between the grid and electrical vehicles.

It comes just three months after the Department of Energy unveiled its initiative in April to explore ways to power the grid with electric vehicle batteries.

The buses have large batteries when compared with regular electric vehicles, and that makes them an important source of potential power.

“If there’s an opportunity to leverage that backup power, we want that,” said Miguel Romero, SDG&E’s vice president of energy innovation. “It can make sense, economically, for them to do so. We want them to potentially connect to the grid and us being able to reduce load.”

The grant-funded project will run for five years.

“We jumped at the opportunity to be part of this pilot project because of its potential to help us build a healthier community and better serve our students, “ said Scott Buxbaum, Cajon Valley's assistant superintendent.

The schools will be able to get a premium return, $2 a kilowatt hour, on the electricity they provide to the grid during emergencies.

The buses use fast-charging technology developed by the San Diego-based Nuvve, which works on expanding the energy-storage capacity of EV batteries.

“Those buses have the ability to plug that gap between the peak consumption and the generation that is available at any time,” said Gregory Poilasne, Nuvve's co-founder.

California is home to more than 1.4 million electric vehicles, and the state is requiring all new cars sold in the state starting in 2035 to be a zero-emission vehicle.

Cars are parked 95% of the time, and they represent a tremendous potential source of power.

SDG&E is optimistic that the program can be expanded to other fleet operators and the utility says residential customers may eventually also be able to take part.