Washington State Ferries (WSF) is undertaking an ambitious initiative to move toward a “greener” ferry fleet with the twin goals of reliability and lighter environmental footprint. In a typical year, WSF burns more than 18 million gallons of diesel fuel, making the system Washington state’s largest diesel consumer. WSF is working on several projects to meet the goals of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Executive Order 20-01, which directs WSF to move toward a zero emissions fleet. The three main capital components of the electrification plan are: building new Olympic class hybrid-electric vessels, converting the existing three Jumbo Mark II vessels to hybrid-electric vessels and developing terminal charging infrastructure.
Major project status
$1.33 billion secured to date from grants and federal and state funds
With new funds from the 2022 Move Ahead Washington transportation package, and other previously secured funds, WSF has now secured $1.33 billion in funds to:
build a total offive Hybrid-Electric Olympic Class (HEOC) vessels;
complete up to four vessel conversions; and
bring power to terminals in central Puget Sound.
This investment is critical to the health and sustainability of the state’s ferry system. In the coming months, WSF will solicit for a General Engineering Consultant to support the electrification program in the areas of program management and preliminary engineering. This solicitation will be released in summer 2022.
Hybrid electric vessels
WSF has nearly completed the functional design for hybrid electric Olympic class, through a contract with Vigor ship builders. This design work will be the basis for construction of five new vessels, each with capacity for 144 vehicles. WSF will seek competitive bids to build the hybrid electric Olympic Class vessels. For these new vessels, WSF believes that this bidding opportunity, along with plans for 11 future vessels, will generate considerable interest from the maritime industry to build these vessels in Washington state. WSF is poised to launch this Request for Proposal process in summer 2022. We look forward to securing a partner to work on this exciting project and build five new hybrid electric vessels in the state of Washington as soon as possible.
Jumbo Mark II conversions
WSF will solicit competitive bids in late 2022 to convert the three Jumbo Mark II vessels to hybrid electric. Our team estimates that the converted Wenatchee will begin service in 2024, with conversions of the Tacoma and the Puyallup to follow.
WSF continues to work with multiple utilities that provide service to the terminals. Initial engineering and design is underway to build the necessary infrastructure to charge the vessels
Video of our electrification efforts
Our new hybrid-electric vessel is just one element of our electrification efforts. Our plan to take the nation’s largest ferry fleet to emission free by the year 2050 is outlined in a video we produced for the American Society of Civil Engineer’s biennial International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure.
Our 2040 Long Range Plan (PDF 11.4MB), which was delivered to the Legislature in January 2019, recommends short-, medium- and long-term actions for WSF to pursue and focuses on a set of investments and service enhancements to be implemented over 20 years. One of the key recommendations is to move toward a “greener” ferry fleet with the goal of a reliable fleet that has a lighter footprint on the environment and outperforms carbon dioxide reduction targets. These goals were captured in the System Electrification Plan (PDF 4MB) in Dec. 2020.
Since 2014, WSF has built four new 144-car Olympic-class ferries and added them to the fleet. Even with four new ferries the new vessel construction program has not kept up with the needs of our aging fleet. Over half of our fleet, 11 of 21 vessels, are more than 30 years old. These ferries are approaching the end of their service lives and must be replaced with newer vessels in the coming years.
WSDOT and WSF are pursuing a number of funding opportunities at the federal, state and local levels to advance the electrification program for both vessels and terminals. To date, WSF has been awarded grants to support the conversion project including funds from the nationwide federal Volkswagen settlement ($35M), a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant ($6.5M), and a Marine Highway Project Designation and grant award of $1.5M.
We will conduct community engagement activities for planning and construction milestones related to systemwide electrification and will provide information about other activities underway.
WSF has involved vessel crews and maintenance staff in the design process, including the development of operational concepts, hazard identification and risk management. Crew training in the areas of electric propulsion and lithium-ion batteries is underway and will continue through project delivery with vessel-specific training.
Ultimately the System Electrification Plan calls for delivering 16 new Olympic class hybrid-electric vessels by 2040. Launching construction of this first hybrid-electric vessel in 2023 will also launch the implementation of the electrification plan – setting Ferries on its new course – for a greener ferry system, reducing emissions up to 76% when the plan is fully implemented.
Jumbo Mark II hybrid-electric propulsion conversion
We are moving forward with converting our three Jumbo Mark II-class ferries, the largest in the fleet, from diesel to hybrid-electric propulsion. In October 2019, the trustee administering the nationwide federal Volkswagen settlement approved up to $35 million to support retrofitting the first of the ferries from diesel to electric power. Planning and design will continue through 2020 and construction of the first Jumbo Mark II conversion will begin in 2023. In addition to cost savings and reduced maintenance costs, converting the Jumbo Mark IIs will reduce carbon emissions by 48,565 metric tons/year – the equivalent of taking more than 10,000 cars off the road.
To fully operate a hybrid electric fleet and meet our emission reduction targets, terminal charging infrastructure must be in place— planned for 16 of the terminals.
Other shoreside electrification improvements include:
Grid connections from a local utility substation and distribution lines to the terminal
Terminal power conversion equipment, switchgear, and batteries
Electric Power Receptacles at selected slips (on the wingwall, or the structures that aid in the mooring of the vessel at the terminal)
Connection to the vessel-based Rapid Charging System (RCS)
Shoreside energy storage systems (ESS) at select terminals
When siting any terminal electrification equipment, sea level rise and floodplain hazard zones will need to be considered. Coordination with other planned terminal improvements should also be considered. Where the grid capacity cannot meet the charging demand directly, a shoreside Energy Storage System (ESS) will be required.
We are working on several projects to meet the goals of Executive Order 20-01 (PDF 208KB), which directs WSF to move toward a zero emissions fleet. As noted on page 37 of the System Electrification Plan (PDF 4MB), if WSF is able to implement the investments in hybrid electric vessels and the shore-side terminal charging, we could see a 53% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and a 76% reduction by 2040.