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BEAST of a ride: Mon Schools expected to get new alternative-energy bus by October

It’s not everyone who actually gets to see his new vehicle being assembled before he sidles into the driver’s seat — but that’s the bus that stopped last week for Tony Harris.

“I’m very impressed,” Harris said.

“You look at the chassis and you can see the construction is really solid.”

Harris, who directs transportation services for Monongalia County Schools, was referring to the district’s BEAST of a ride.

BEAST: That’s “battery electric alternative school transportation,” for those you who actually know what you’re regarding when looking under the hood.

The energy-friendly bus is among 41 being built for public school systems in West Virginia by GreenPower Motor Co., which put up a plant in Charleston last year.

Mon’s district will receive the first one, which is expected to roll off the assembly line in October, Harris said.

He drove to Charleston last week so he could look in on the build.

Such altruism in energy and transportation is being steered by a $15 million order Gov. Jim Justice and the state of West Virginia placed with the company last spring.

Without an order, such a bus carries a price tag in the range of $325,000 to $350,000, Harris said.

“This is pretty exciting for us,” he said.

“And it’s going to be beneficial for the county and for all of us when you look at the lower energy costs.”

The BEAST can burn anywhere from 100 to 150 miles on a full battery, the company said.

Add that to the 70% to 80% savings in operating costs that will give Harris a smoother road come fall.

Perhaps the most important numbers among those numbers, though, is the one with nothing attached: a zero.

As in zero emissions, said Mark Nestlen, a development officer with GreenPower.

That humble zero, he said, adds up to both healthy efficiency for the district and healthy passengers in the seats.

BEAST proponents can back up those health claims by way of a University of Michigan study from 2015 which also tells school officials what they already knew: that diesel-fueled buses don’t always give a very nice ride to kids with asthma.

It’s because of what pours from the exhaust pipe.

Zero emissions might mean less absences for children with the aforementioned asthma, or allergies or any other health issues affecting breathing and respiratory health.

When a child is too ill to go to class, he said, parents oftentimes have to call in also, so they can tend to their sick kids at home. 

A beast in the hills

In the meantime, the company gave a loaner to the local district for an extended test drive last November.

Harris piloted it through the whole gamut of traffic across Morgantown and its environs — from gridlock on the Mileground, to the mountainous reaches of eastern Mon, to the remoteness of the western end.

The director, who drove a school bus for 20 years in neighboring Preston County, laughed and he said “he’d be lying” if he didn’t admit he was more than eager to get back behind the wheel of BEAST.

The new addition will be enlisted for limited, specialized runs, Harris said, while drivers get checked out for it.

“The performance is amazing,” he said. “And it is fun to drive.”

Nestlen last November said it was also going to be fun to unleash the BEAST on the Mountain State’s hilly, switchback roads.

Those Appalachian ribbons of asphalt, he said, are interesting enough to negotiate — even on those days when the fog, snow and ice aren’t taking hold.

GreenPower, in fact, has its own custom motoring mantra related to the above, Nestlen reported.

“They say if we can drive ‘em in West Virginia, we can drive ‘em anywhere.”

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