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A BEAST of a ride: Mon Schools expect to receive two electric buses in December

Two beasts are about to be unleashed in Monongalia County.

And no, Tony Harris said the afternoon of a Friday the 13th, he isn’t referencing the capsule plot of the latest horror series streaming across your Hulu right now.

Harris, who directs transportation services for Monongalia County Schools, was talking about the two BEAST electric buses the district expects to take delivery of sometime in December.

That’s BEAST, as in “battery electric alternative school transportation,” he said.

The energy-friendly rides are currently being assembled in West Virginia by GreenPower Motor Co., which put up a plant in Charleston last year.

GreenPower is the alternative transportation company embraced by Gov. Jim Justice following its announcement that it was moving part of its manufacturing operation to the Mountain State.

Both buses slated for Mon are GreenPower’s “nano” models, the smaller type A-styled, 24-passenger buses that ferry students to and from – and both carry a $285,000 price tag.

The buses will transport special needs students and students who are designated as not having permanent lodging under the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

One of the buses is already bought and paid for, courtesy of a $15 million order Justice placed with the company to manufacture its BEAST buses for 41 of West Virginia’s 55 public school districts.

Mon’s Board of Education approved a second purchase during its regular meeting Tuesday from its own coffers – but as part of the deal, the district will receive substantial reimbursements through an energy fund set up by the state after GreenPower arrived.

The district during its next meeting Oct. 24 is expected to open bids for the charging stations that will be required to keep the buses running.

Mon BOE President Ron Lytle said the district is fortunate to be able to afford such investments for energy.

“Most counties around the state don’t have the infrastructure for these,” he said, referring to the buses and the charging stations.

“They just can’t put the power because they don’t have the grid,” the board president continued. “It’s a good opportunity for us to do something that’s energy conscious.”

In the meantime, Harris said he appreciated the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a BEAST that GreenPower loaned to the county last November during the pilot phase of the program.

“I was impressed with how it handled,” said Harris, who drove a school bus for 20 years in Preston County before moving into administration in Mon’s district.

He’s equally impressed, he said, by the 70% to 80% savings the buses will deliver in operating costs.

All that, he said, with zero emissions and a normal battery range of 100 to 150 miles per charge.

Mark Nestlen, a development officer with GreenPower, especially appreciated the professional assessment from Mon’s transportation director – given the narrow, winding roads and challenging terrain here.

GreenPower, he reported, even has its own custom-motoring motto, related to the above.

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