Director of UGA Transportation and Parking Services Don Walter is eager to talk about the plan to have more electric buses at UGA than any other university in the country.
“This is really cutting-edge technology,” Walter said. “We have people from all over the country calling us and visiting us.”
As reported in The Red & Black, UGA currently has eight Proterra buses at its transportation facility and 12 charging stations. Federal and state grants have made it possible for UGA to soon have 33 zero-emission electric buses, which will account for a third of the total fleet, and start phasing out diesel predecessors, on campus by 2021, Walter said.
“We don’t ever plan on buying another diesel bus,” Walter said.
The campus transit facility has 12 charging stations which are able to handle 48 buses.
Recently, Walter said they had electric buses on the Orbit route and campus tours. The electric buses have worked well and much more quietly than the diesel fleet.
UGA is the first system to test the Proterra Catalyst E2 buses, and Walter said UGA maintenance has helped recommend modifications on the new model.
The bus funding is made up of $10 million Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority grant, a $7.56 million U.S. Transit Administration grant. UGA also matched 30% of this grant funding.
The electric buses offer large cost savings for the university as well as environmental benefits.
Diesel buses cost $100 per day to run because of gas, while the electric buses will be about $5-10 per day to run, Walter said.
The electric grid will power the buses at the Riverbend Road Campus Transit facility. Walter said UGA receives lower electricity rates from Georgia Power because they charge the buses at night when electricity is in less demand.
Because the electricity comes from the grid, the zero-emission buses does not mean they’re powered by renewable energy. In Georgia, natural gas generates about 40% of electricity and coal generates about 25%. Renewable energy generates about 8%, according to Georgia’s 2018 profile in the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“While there is still that connection to the grid, it is a lot more efficient compared to standard diesel coming directly from the buses,” said Blake Ginn, a senior environmental engineering major working on his engineering capstone with transit. “There is still significant greenhouse gas and overall pollutant emissions that are being reduced by the buses.”
As it stands, maintenance costs from diesel to electric are expected to decrease from $22,500 per bus to $7,500 because there are no transmission repairs, exhaust problems, oil changes or brake strain, Walter said.
Walter said almost half the drivers are trained and once they train all 150 of them, they’ll be able to start regularly running all the electric buses they have.
“We want every driver to be completely comfortable when they get on that bus,” Walter said.
UGA students should be seeing more electric buses in the next few months.
The outside is made of a strong composite fiberglass and carbon fiber material and has two motors behind the back wheels. Its 500 horsepower engine is twice that of a diesel bus, and it’s five times more efficient, according to a UGA press release.
“This is the best bus ever built,” Walter said.
The electric fleet will contribute toward meeting UGA’s Campus Sustainability Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in 2020. According to the plan, 14% of emissions come from campus transportation.
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Late last week it was announced that North Oconee High School senior David Han is the Oconee County School System’s STAR Student who will represent the county at the Region 4 STAR competition next month at the University of Georgia.
As reported in the Athens Banner-Herald, the selection was presented during the annual breakfast for the STAR students held at High Shoals Health & Rehabilitation in North High Shoals.
STAR students from the two public schools and three private schools and their parents were gathered with education professionals and elected officials at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce sponsored breakfast.
Marion Butler, a banker from Synovus Bank, presented each of the STAR students with a check from the bank.
David, the son of Stanley and Sarah Han, is planning to attend the University of Georgia as an economics major.
Other STAR students included Elliot Williamson and Logan Williamson, twins who tied for the honor at Athens Academy; David Burke of Oconee County High School; Jared Deatrick of Prince Avenue Christian School; and Lexi Farr of Westminster Christian School.
Students honored with the STAR award are chosen based on their SAT scores, scholastic achievements and extracurricular activities.
“I know I’m going to leave here today encouraged and inspired to go back and do my work with more dedication and commitment because of what I have seen and heard today in these young people,” said Jennifer Whitaker, the principal at High Shoals Elementary School.
“One of the most important things that I think this world needs a little more of is kindness. We have heard that over and over that not only are you brilliant, but you are kind to others,” Chamber President Courtney Bernardi told the students.
Students also chose STAR teachers who positively influenced them during their school years.
Elliot Williamson chose Spanish teacher Marielle Newland; Logan Williamson chose English teacher Gabriel Lovatt; Han chose history teacher Richard Rosch; Burke chose calculus teacher Jacob Forrester; Deatrick chose science teacher Dale Autry; and Farr, not in attendance, chose science teacher Carrie Herring.
Elliot Williamson, son of Keys and Melissa Williamson, is undecided on a college, but wants to major in international business or non-profit business. His brother, Logan Williamson, is also undecided on a college, but plans to major in political science and economics.
Burke, son of John and Mindy Burke, plans to attend UGA and double major in biology and Spanish.
Deatrick, son of John and Grace Deatrick, hasn’t chosen a school yet, but likes Wake Forest University, and plans to major in finance, business and marketing.
Farr, the daughter of Frank and Angela Farr, plans to major in special education at UGA.
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On the morning of Feb. 3, Christopher Bartus came into work not expecting the news that he, as well as the dozens of other employees at Athens’s Earth Fare, would be out of jobs soon.
As recently reported in The Red & Black, Earth Fare, a “natural and organic” grocery store chain which opened its first store in 1975 out of Asheville, NC and has several locations in the southeast and midwest, officially announced it would be closing its corporate office and all of its stores in a Feb. 3 press release.
With 80 people working at the store, Bartus is concerned about the job prospects in Athens, which he thinks is “a difficult place to find a job.”
“We’ll have to fight each other for whatever jobs are out there,” Bartus said.
In the press release, Earth Fare cited the struggles for the company to refinance its debt and “continued challenges in the retail industry” as the reason for its decision. Earth Fare also explained that all of its stores were beginning to liquidate their inventories, which will cause “very significant price reductions.”
Bartus said he has “no idea” how the company will begin lowering the store’s prices of its products.
In another letter sent to employees on Feb. 3, employees were told all Earth Fare stores were set to close within two weeks, but the process could take up to four weeks, Bartus said. Despite the store’s future closure, Bartus said he doesn’t know when employees will be laid off.
“Our meat department [is] probably going to run out of meat in the next day or two. So does that mean they let go of the employees because they don’t need them anymore?” Bartus said. “Could be, I don’t know.”
Bartus also mentioned that some employees left their jobs to find new jobs right after receiving the news.
Ellie Apostol, a retired Montessori teacher from Ohio who recently moved to Athens, was “shocked” and saddened over the news of the store closing. As a frequent shopper, Apostol liked the store’s customer service.
“The clientele here is just so much fun to run into. It's a wonderful meeting place with other Athenians, and the quality is excellent. It's sort of like a hub here where people can find things that they can't find elsewhere,” Apostol said.
Despite visiting the store several times a week, Tracy Bartlett came looking for products at discounted rates the day she heard the news.
“I’m really sad about it, very disappointed,” Bartlett said. “It’s a great [place]. I live [within] walking distance, it’s just great to be able to have an organic, natural grocer right around the corner.”
Opened in the late 1990s as one of Earth Fare’s earliest locations, Athens’s Earth Fare is now one of the company's 50 stores soon to close shop.
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