EnergyFederalLocal NewsTransportationHouston Wins $21.6 Million Grant for 20 Electric Buses, Charging Infrastructure

Under Mayor Turner’s Climate Action Plan, Houston is touting a move away from clean diesel and CNG buses to “100 percent no emission” buses.
August 17, 2022
The City of Houston has won a $21.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to purchase 20 battery-electric buses (BEBs) and build related charging infrastructure. 

“We are on a quest to move or continue to move from clean diesel and CNG [compressed natural gas] buses to 100 percent ‘no emission’ bus fleet,” said Sanjay Ramabhadran, chair of Houston METRO’s Capital and Strategic Planning Committee, during a press conference Monday.

The FTA grant is derived from the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. It will be combined with another disbursement of federal funds granted earlier this year from the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s Clean Vehicles Program for the purchase of another 30 BEBs of varying sizes.

Flanked by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX-29), Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner thanked Congress for helping secure the funding. He voiced hope that additional support for his green energy initiatives would come to Houston from the $750 billion Inflation Reduction Act, which includes $370 billion in subsidies and incentives to reduce carbon emissions.

Ramabhadran cited Turner’s 2020 Climate Action Plan, which called for converting all “non-emergency, light-duty” city vehicles to 100 percent electric vehicles (EV) by 2030, but acknowledged the cost and infrastructure challenges to shift the city’s fleet of more than 1,200 buses to electric in the same time frame.

The Texan Tumbler

In previous trials of BEBs in Houston and other warm climates, the power demands of running air conditioning on buses reduced the driving range of the vehicles, and a 2019 AAA study found that temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit resulted in a 17 percent decline in driving ranges.

Several U.S. cities such as Chicago and Seattle tout successful BEB programs, while similar programs in Albuquerque and Los Angeles have struggled with equipment failures, and other programs have reported fire issues.

Last November, Houston’s METRO board approved the purchase of 20 BEBs from Canadian manufacturer NovaBus, which recently unveiled a new model with a 564-watt battery and maximum driving range of 292 miles.

Metro estimated the total cost to implement the electric buses at $25.2 million, including the cost of constructing new charging facilities, and indicated the first buses could be running in Houston by late 2022 or early 2023.

Electric vehicles produce less emissions than traditional gas vehicles but rely on fossil fuels for manufacturing and other necessary components. EVs also must be charged via the available power grid, which in Houston is supplied primarily by nuclear, coal, and natural gas generation.

Much of the cost of an EV stems from batteries requiring expanded mining for lithium, copper, nickel, and cobalt. China dominates both the mining and production of EV batteries, producing 79 percent of all available lithium-ion batteries in 2021.

Earlier this year, the Texas Department of Transportation laid out a plan to place more EV charging stations throughout the state using a $408 million allocation from the 2021 infrastructure legislation.

In 2016, Houston METRO touted the purchase and implementation of 50 CNG buses and necessary refueling stations, and in 2018 purchased 20 CNG buses at a cost of $10.7 million.

Voters approved a $3.5 billion bond referendum in 2019 to be combined with federal funds for METRO’s long-range transit plan, but ridership on many Houston bus routes never materialized and dropped precipitously during the pandemic. According to the Houston Chronicle, in one instance, a line projected to carry 28,800 riders a day peaked in 2019 at 7,581 and now transports just 3,550.

In addition to announcing the BEB grant, Turner also announced this week that the city had selected five “storytellers” for a campaign to promote awareness of environmental pollutants. The campaign is funded with a $200,000 grant to Houston from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for “Environmental Justice Initiatives” under the American Rescue Plan Act.


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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a regional reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.