CAMDEN — Joining a national trend nudged on by billions of dollars in federal funding, the Camden-Rockport school district takes delivery this week on its first school bus powered by electricity. The extension cord is 23 miles long.

Just kidding.

Seriously, in addition to a host of stated environmental benefits, the district expects to save hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance costs over the life of the electric bus, compared to the bill for running the 15 gas and diesel buses that now make up the fleet.

And with that in mind, district officials have already applied for a piece of the $5 billon in federal grants up for grabs over the next years to equip schools with electric buses and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The district has applied for funding for six more of the battery operated vehicles — although they do not expect it to happen just yet and an official said they will retain some of the old fleet in case the electricity goes out.

“This is the first round of funding,” said district business manager Pete Orne. “It made sense that we at least consider it. I applied for six, but we don’t have to accept six.”

Pete Orne, business manager for the Camden-Rockport School District, wants to increase the size of the electric bus fleet. He has applied for federal funds for six more to add to the first one, scheduled for delivery Oct.13. The use of battery powered electric buses, he says, is a “natural extension” of the district’s smart embracing already of solar, wind and thermal energy sources.

Those buses sell for between $325,000 and $350,000 each, but the cost will be offset by $250,000 per bus by federal EPA grants. As a result, “the cost of electric is the same or a little less than the fossil fuel bus,” Orne said.

Dubbed EV10, the district’s first electric bus looks just like a traditional bus but has blue bumpers. Instead of a fossil fuel-powered engine and a drive train, it is crammed with batteries, computers and an extra battery pack. The pack will increase its range between charges from 60 miles up to about 160 miles, according to Orne. He said that will help reduce what has come to be known among electric vehicle owners as, “range anxiety.”

Orne also was behind the Rockland district’s order of its first electric school bus, expected to be delivered soon. He is that district’s former business manager and has also has served on the Camden-Rockport School Board.

Camden-Rockport’s new bus came with a price tag of $386,000, almost three times the cost of a traditional school bus. It will come with its own charging system and is expected to go into trial service Oct. 19 and regular service shortly after, if all goes well.

Of the total cost, $115,000 came from a $50,000 community grant from the town of Camden and $65,000 in federal grant funds, through the 2005 Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

The balance will be paid by district tax payers via a 10-year capital lease program, Orne said.

And while that price tag might seem an extravagance, the business manager said the numbers show that it is a sound business decision — with added benefits for the community and the environment — and that those are the criteria he uses to judge whether or not to move ahead on an idea.

Here are the numbers, according to Orne:  over the lifetime of a traditional bus, the district spends about $140,000 for fuel and $110,000 for maintenance. That’s $250,000 for about 200,000 to 220,000 miles of use.

For the same number of miles, the EV101 will use about $29,000 in electricity and cost about $44,000 in maintenance, for a total of $73,000. That’s a 70 percent savings compared to fossil fuel buses.

“It’s pretty amazing, the difference in energy usage,” Orne said.

In addition, all aspects of the new bus operating system, from electricity use to heating and air conditioning, are monitored, controlled and can be adjusted remotely by computers — from the factory or the district bus yard in Camden.

“These buses are online,” he added.

Orne described other facts and figures related to the new school bus:

A full recharge of the batteries takes 5 to 6 hours, but two hours would be enough for either a morning or afternoon run.

The EV101 seats 71 passengers.

District bus runs typically are 30 miles each in the morning and afternoon.

Use of the bus is the equivalent of taking five cars off the roads.

EV101 makes less noise so will promote quieter neighborhoods and reduce sound pollution town-wide.

The buses reduce exposure to fossil fuel exhaust.

Orne called the move to electric buses “a natural extension” of the district’s investment and success in non-fossil fuel energy sources.

He cited the extensive, and cost-saving use of solar, windmill and thermal energy at the high school as an example.

“The district is so far ahead of the curve in the use of alternative energy, it’s pretty incredible,” Orne observed.

And he looks for more innovation and sharing with other districts to come.

It is possible, for example, that soon schools visiting for sports events in electric buses will be able to recharge their vehicles at one another’s stations.

And, he added, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to plug a bus right into our windmill or solar power? It just goes to show you can use these two technologies together.”