Wash. ferry’s biggest vessels starting their electrification makeover

Sep 11, 2023, 3:15 PM

The M/V Wenatchee, one of WSDOT Ferries Division's three Jumbo Mark II Class vessels. (Photo from F...

The M/V Wenatchee, one of WSDOT Ferries Division's three Jumbo Mark II Class vessels. (Photo from Flickr @WSDOT)

(Photo from Flickr @WSDOT)

Washington State Ferries (WSF) is starting the long and expensive process of electrifying their boats, with one already being taken to a shipyard for conversion.

The shipbuilding contractor, Vigor, who won the bid to work on state ferries, began work on the M/V Wenatchee Monday. The boat is now docked at Harbor Island shipyard in Seattle to undergo its hybrid conversion.

WSF Spokesperson Suanne Pelley told KIRO Newsradio that this is just the first step in a massive undertaking to run the largest ferry system in the U.S. completely green.

“We’re on our way to achieving zero emissions while ensuring that our fleet is prepared to serve our communities for years to come,” Pelley said. “And we expect that work (on the Wenatchee) to take just under a year, we’ll return to service in late 2024.”

More on ferries: Seattle-Bainbridge, the busiest route in Wash., closes to vehicles

WSF estimates that they use 19 million gallons of diesel fuel operating their ferries and is one of the state agencies with the most greenhouse gas production.

“We’re tackling the biggest emitters in our fleet first, the Jumbo Mark IIs, which contribute 26% of our ferries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” Matt von Ruden, System Electrification Program Administrator, said in an update on the project. “When our terminals are electrified in 2026, we expect emissions from these three vessels to drop by roughly 95%.”

Once the Wenatchee returns to service in late summer 2024, the M/V Tacoma will follow, and then the M/V Puyallup sometime in 2025.

But WSF doesn’t have all the funds for the refitting secured yet, Pelley said. However, that doesn’t stop them from moving forward with the project while they work to get the money for the whole fleet.

“We did a fixed price contract for that third vessel because we don’t yet have all of that funding secured,” Pelley said. “So we have the money for the first two, so we did the contract for those, and that gives us a little time to raise additional funds.”

Pelley said there’s no plan to ask legislators in Olympia to raise taxes to come up with the funds and instead said that they would look in other places for the money.

“I think the important thing is that the overall electrification program that includes building new vessels, converting the terminals, as well as doing this conversion is about $4 billion. And of that, we have $1.3 billion already secured,” Pelley said. “So it’s a process over time to continue to seek funding from different sources. And we will do that to eventually implement the full plan.”

Follow Micki Gamez on X, formerly known as Twitter or email her here.

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