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Washington State Ferries Starts Conversion to Hybrid-Electric Power

Washington, (Qnnflash) – Washington State Ferries (WSF), the largest public ferry system in the U.S., is adopting a European-inspired approach by transitioning its operations to hybrid-electric power in order to decarbonize inland waterways transportation. The company has awarded its inaugural contract for ferry conversion as part of a comprehensive project expected to unfold over a span of 17 years, with a budget of $3.98 billion allocated for the electrification initiative.

The first phase of the program entails the conversion of two of its largest ferries into hybrid-electric vessels. Vigor, a shipbuilding company based in Washington state, secured the contract following a competitive selection process. Vigor’s winning bid came in slightly above $150 million, while the second bidder quoted approximately $166 million—higher than the state’s initial estimate of $120 million. The contract encompasses the conversion of two ferries, priced at around $100 million, with an added fixed-price option for the conversion of a third vessel in 2025.

The three vessels selected for conversion constitute the largest units within WSF’s fleet. These ferries, built by Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle between 1997 and 1999, boast dimensions of 460 feet in length and have the capacity to accommodate up to 2,500 passengers and 202 vehicles.

The conversion process encompasses the replacement of aging diesel generator sets with batteries, energy management systems, and charging infrastructure to be positioned at each terminal. This project also includes the planned upgrade of propulsion control systems. The conversion program aims to enhance vessel reliability, extend the lifespan of the Jumbo Mark II class, and mitigate environmental impacts.

Vigor is set to commence work on the first vessel, the Wenatchee, next month at its Harbor Island shipyard in Seattle. The Wenatchee is expected to return to service by the summer of the following year. Subsequently, the conversion of the Tacoma will commence in 2024. The contract provides WSF with the option to extend the conversion project to include a third ferry, the Puyallup, in 2025.

The company’s comprehensive electrification program also entails the electrification or construction of new ferries, along with terminal enhancements. Upon completion of the terminal electrification in 2026, emissions from the three converted vessels are projected to decrease by approximately 95 percent. These vessels currently contribute to 26 percent of WSF’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions and serve densely populated urban areas within the region.

Washington State Ferries is taking these steps in alignment with Governor Jay Inslee’s directive, as he signed a bill in May 2023 initiating the process for the system-wide electrification effort. The comprehensive initiative involves retrofitting six diesel ferries to hybrid electric, constructing 16 new hybrid vessels, retiring 13 diesel ferries, and implementing charging infrastructure at 16 terminals. With this initiative, WSF is leading a significant electrification program in the U.S., mirroring the path taken by European ferry operators who have transitioned over 70 ferries to hybrid-electric power since 2015.

In the next stage of the program, scheduled for the fall of 2023, WSF intends to solicit bids for the construction of five new hybrid electric ferries. The final invitation for bids is anticipated to be issued in 2024. In parallel, the company has already initiated efforts to incorporate high-speed charging capabilities into its terminals.

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