School buses powered exclusively by electricity made their debut in Osseo this week, one of five districts in the state where environmentally friendly vehicles will transport students to class under a pilot from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Two electric buses operated by Northstar Bus Lines on Wednesday delivered students to Park Center and Osseo high schools, Brooklyn Middle School and Birch Grove School for the Arts as part of the state's electric school bus project, believed to be the first pilot of its kind in the Midwest.

The zero-emission buses will "make it better today, tomorrow and long into the future," said Nick Martini, transportation coordinator for Osseo Area Schools.

Bus companies serving the Faribault, Fergus Falls and Morris districts also have already or will receive one or two of the LionC electric buses by fall 2022. Monarch Bus Service will get one electric bus to deploy in the St. Paul or Columbia Heights districts. Osseo will get a third bus at a later date.

They will join Lakeville and Eastern Carver County districts, each of which had at least one electric bus before the pilot and were the first in the state to try them.

More than 47 school districts applied for MPCA grants totaling $2.1 million. The five districts selected and the bus companies they contract with were awarded funding to buy the buses, which cost $388,000 each. Companies also had to kick in money to cover the entire cost. Northstar paid $88,000 toward each of its buses. That compares with about $80,000 for a traditional diesel-powered bus, said Chelaine Crego, Northstar's terminal bus manager.

But the big expenditure is worth it, she added.

"It is about the environment, being healthy and clean, and these buses do that," she said during a news conference at Birch Grove school in Brooklyn Park.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been a high priority for Gov. Tim Walz, said MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler. Electric buses are just one of the initiatives the state has launched in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, she said.

"Today we step forward in that project," said Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.

The eight buses collectively could reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 1,120 tons, or the equivalent of removing 244 cars from the road each year during their lifetime, the MPCA said. That is something Osseo Superintendent Cory McIntyre said he got behind. While it is exciting to be on the cutting edge of school transportation, more importantly, he said, the buses will deliver a tangible lesson to students on the importance of protecting the environment by using clean and renewable energy.

The MPCA will collect data to learn how much electricity each bus uses. The agency also will collect data on how the buses, which can travel up to 150 miles on a full charge, perform in Minnesota's cold climate. Kessler expects the buses to hold up well since they tested in frigid parts of Canada, where the Lion company is based.

Keith Thompson,, a driver for Northstar, was behind the wheel Wednesday and said the bus handles as well as its diesel counterpart, except in one way.

"I didn't hear the engine sound," he said.

The LionC buses are so quiet the manufacturer equipped it to play music, similar to what can be heard from an ice cream truck, when traveling at 15 mph or slower.

"Kids can hear the bus coming," Northstar's Crego said.

Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768