Washington awards $150M contract to convert ferries to hybrid-electric power

The Puyallup ferry at the Edmonds dock as the sun sets in March 2022. The Puyallup is one of three state ferries that could be converted to hybrid-electric power. (File photo by Kashf Iqbal)

Washington State Ferries announced Tuesday it has awarded a roughly $150 million contract to ship builder Vigor to convert up to three of the state’s largest vessels to hybrid-electric power.

Under the deal, Vigor in September will start work on the Wenatchee ferry at its Harbor Island shipyard in Seattle. The Jumbo Mark II vessel, with a 202-vehicle capacity, is expected back in service on the Seattle to Bainbridge route next summer.

The company would begin converting the Tacoma in 2024. Washington State Ferries has the option to extend the contract for the third boat, Puyallup, in 2025. These currently diesel-powered boats generally serve the routes linking Seattle and Bainbridge Island, and Edmonds and Kingston.

“We’re tackling the biggest emitters in our fleet first, the Jumbo Mark IIs, which contribute 26% of our ferries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” said Matt von Ruden, system electrification program administrator. “When our terminals are electrified in 2026, we expect emissions from these three vessels to drop by roughly 95%.”

Vigor’s bid of just over $150 million is 40% higher than the $120 million estimate of the state engineer. Everett Ship Repair, the other firm seeking the work, submitted a $166 million bid, according to an agency release.

This contract is for conversion of two vessels for approximately $100 million with the state holding an option to convert the third vessel in 2025 at a fixed price of around $50 million, according to the release.

It also pays Vigor to replace the propulsion control systems in each vessel, which are experiencing equipment failures, according to the release. Replacement parts for the systems are often unavailable.  This effort will increase reliability and ensure the Jumbo Mark IIs are available for decades to come, ferry officials said.

Originally, the state intended to award a contract for the work on all three vessels. In June, when it was clear final bids would be well above state engineer estimates, ferry officials pivoted, committing to do two boats with the option for the third.

Moving the largest ferries to hybrid-electric power is one of several steps the ferry system is pursuing as it looks to wean itself off diesel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The agency’s long term plans call for retrofitting more ferries to hybrid-electric, building new hybrid-powered vessels, adding charging stations at terminals and retiring diesel ferries.

Thus far, there is $1.33 billion secured to build up to five hybrid electric Olympic Class vessels and convert up to four other boats to hybrid electric.

— By Jerry Cornfield, Washington State Standard

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  1. Ever seen an electric car on fire? Almost impossible to put it out. An electric car had about 4500 pounds of batteries on board. A jumbo ferry has TONS! The batteries last about 10 years and have to be replaced. Where are they going to put all those toxic batteries and how much is it going to cost to replace them?

    1. No, Mr Cloudy, I have not seen an EV burst into flames. Have you?
      Electric cars (EV’s) catch fire much less often than gas-powered vehicles: “The insurance site Auto Insurance EZ compiled sales and accident data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the National Transportation Safety Board. … There were 1529.9 fires per 100k for gas vehicles and just 25.1 fires per 100k sales for electric vehicles.”
      An MSB study found that after a rise in fires from 2019 to 2020, the rate is basically unchanged over the past 3 years with 20 EV and hybrid fires in 2020, 24 fires in 2021, and 23 fires in 2022.
      You state that “An electric car had about 4500 pounds of batteries on board.” Yet a little research reveals that a Tesla Model S has a battery that weighs roughly 1,200 lbs, while a Nissan Leaf’s battery weighs in at just 668 lbs. My Volvo XC60 V8 weighs approximately 4,731 lbs, which minus that 4,500 lb figure, means the car itself weighs only 231 lbs. Who knew?

  2. Wait until they plug-in the new electric, Puyallup, and all the lights go out in Edmonds. Where are they going to find the additional electrical power to supply all these new electrical systems?

  3. Washington State Ferries (WSF…) contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than any state agency, burning 19 million gallons of diesel fuel every year.
    The electric boats will be hybrids, capable of charging their own batteries and running their own electrical engines at need – like a diesel-electric train engine – at about a 25% reduction in fuel consumption.
    On-shore charging will come from remote power substations, not the immediate local grid, and draw can be shifted around according need, bringing power directly to ferry terminals, not from the local town’s system
    Some docks may include batteries that can be trickle-charged all day, for subsequent discharge to ferries, thus creating a low, constant draw rather than a surge.
    A good video about the system (power considerations start at 5:40):
    So we don’t need to worry about the lights suddenly going out in Edmonds when a ferry plugs in.

  4. Nathaniel and Darrol, here you two guys go again confusing people, with actual facts based on research. One thing that’s really for sure is Edmonds, in general, is one fun place to be and live here on Earth even with all our too frequent squabbles over resources and where they should go. We really do need to start thinking in terms of being one city for the good of everyone and making our leaders accountable to that concept as much as possible.

    As to the subject at hand, it’s going to get very expensive to use our ferry system over the next decade, with or without the switch to hybrid-electric on old and new boats. It will not be possible to economically build our way out of the problems built into this system that has been mismanaged from it’s inception. The private sector realized this was a sure loser early on.

  5. You might want to view the linked video. As I understand it, the diesel engines will be axillary, brought in when needed. The boats will charge at the dock and run on stored electricity.

    1. The video actually speaks to both uses of the diesel engines. Auxiliary and battery charging. At about 1:30 in they are talking about “peak shaving” where diesel engines run optimum and use excess output to charge batteries. Good that it can still do this in case there are issues with the not-yet-developed ship side umbilical system for charging at dock.

      (Interesting that the state had to come up with this new umbilical system concept to try to avoid hassles of permitting the existing design of shore side umbilical. Why couldn’t they focus on reducing permitting burden for all parties instead!)

  6. In terms of controlling climate change in general, I think the best we will be able to do is convert all our transportation platforms to a hybrid system of some fossil fuel and electric and hope for the best. All electric is and always will be a pipe dream. If that was the answer electric cars and vessels would have been developing better and better after the Baker Electric car back in the 1900’s. Exponential human population growth is the real problem and not easily solved.

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