Washington State Ferries (WSF) is embarking on an ambitious initiative to begin the transition to an emission-free fleet through a hybrid electric ferry system. WSF operates the largest ferry system in the United States. It is also the biggest contributor or greenhouse gas emissions of any state agency in Washington, burning 19 million gallons of diesel fuel to support 24 million passengers every year.
This shift to hybrid electric ferries is in response to governor and legislative direction as well as alignment with the agency’s own long-range planning initiatives. To transition to a hybrid electric fleet, WSF is working on the three key elements of the electrification system – building new vessels, converting vessels, and electrifying the terminals.
Major project status
$1.33 billion secured funding | $3.98 billion total estimated cost
Major project alerts
Through a competitive process completed in Nov. 2022, WSF selected Hill International, Inc. and its team to serve as the General Engineering Consultant (GEC) for the electrification program.
WSF will post a draft of the design-build Request for Proposal (RFP) for up to five HEOC vessels to the Washington State Ferries (WSF) contracting websiteas soon as it is ready for industry review. An email notice will be sent to “Interested Parties”. WSF will accept comments on the Draft RFP before issuing the final RFP in spring 2023. It is noteworthy that we have decided to implement a shore-based charging system, which differs from the initial concepts discussed at Industry Day.
All parties who registered for the Oct. 6, 2022, Industry Day event are already on the Interested Parties list. Others who want to be added to the interested parties list to receive notifications about the upcoming RFP, please email WSFelectrification@wsdot.wa.gov.
The Request for Information (RFI) for a new design-build contract for five hybrid electric Olympic class (HEOC) vessels is now closed, but can be viewed at the WSF contracting website.
WSF hosted an Industry Day for interested firms on Oct. 6, 2022, in advance of Request for Proposals (RFP). A recording of the presentation and the PowerPoint presentation can be viewed on the WSF contracting website. All who registered for the Industry Day event are included in the “Interested Parties” list for the RFP.
Conversions of the Jumbo Mark II vessels
On March 28, 2023 WSF posted the Invitation for Bid to convert three Jumbo Mark II vessels to hybrid electric on the Washington State Ferries Contracts webpage. Please see Contract Number 00-9955 for the “Jumbo Mark II Class Ferries Hybrid-Electric Propulsion System Upgrade. The IFB documents are each available in PDF format. Several amendments have been issued to the original IFB, including Amendment 5 (PDF), which states the bid due date is now 06/15/2023.
WSF looks forward to selecting a shipbuilder to launch this critical first step in developing a hybrid electric system which will reduce our reliance on, and use of, diesel fuel and lower greenhouse gas emissions from the fleet. The Wenatchee is the first vessel that will be converted, followed by the Tacoma and the Puyallup. The converted Wenatchee will be delivered to the shipyard service to be back in service for the summer 2024 season. Conversions of the Tacoma and the Puyallup will follow in the subsequent two years.
Spring 2023 electrification update
Jumbo Mark II Conversions
Our biggest news is the launch of the Invitation for Bid for the Jumbo Mark II vessels. Converting the three largest vessels in the WSF fleet means that we are tackling the biggest emissions culprits, with 26% of greenhouse gases coming from these three vessels alone. This conversion will reduce emissions from these vessels initially by more than 20% and by nearly 95% when terminals are electrified in 2026.
WSF is actively working to minimize the impacts on service while these conversions are underway. While we are converting the three Jumbo Mark II vessels to hybrid electric, we will be replacing the outdated propulsion control systems, which are overdue for replacement. The three vessels are experiencing equipment failures and replacement parts are now often unavailable. It is urgent that we replace the propulsion control systems on the current schedule if we are to sustain vessel reliability. By combining this critical propulsion control work along with the hybrid conversion, we can accomplish both activities in this same period. This ensures the most efficient work schedule and minimizes future service disruptions.
Hybrid electric Olympic Class vessels
Some of you may have read about bills in the 2023 legislative session that address how WSF will procure the five funded hybrid electric Olympic class vessels, or HEOCs. Due to the potential change in legislative direction on new vessel procurement, our planned Request for Proposal in spring 2023 is on hold until the legislative session ends, likely at the end of April. We will update this webpage and the HEOC interested parties once these policy issues have been decided.
WSF continues to work with multiple utilities that provide electrical service to the terminals. In Sept. 2022, WSF and Seattle City Light signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding our upcoming work together to power Colman Dock for the hybrid electric vessels. WSF looks forward to establishing a similar partnership with Puget Sound Energy in the near future. Initial engineering and design are underway to build the necessary infrastructure to charge the vessels.
For a primer on WSF’s electrification efforts, please see this video:
For a more in-depth look at our ferry electrification efforts, watch the extended video.
The implementation schedule below shows the electrification of terminals and vessels by routes. This schedule was updated in July 2022. All dates are subject to change and are dependent upon additional funding.
Estimates in the 2020 System Electrification Plan show that it will cost a total of $3.98 billion to fund the program—adjusted for inflation in the year of expenditure. Vessel electrification is estimated at $3.7 billion and terminal electrification is estimated at $280 million.
The program is currently funded at $1.33 billion from grants, state, and federal funding. The newest, and largest, investment of $1.03 billion is from the 2022 Move Ahead Washington transportation package. The program still needs an additional $2.37 billion to be fully funded.
WSDOT and WSF are pursuing a number of additional 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 $35 million from the nationwide federal Volkswagen settlement, a $6.5 million Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant and a Marine Highway Project Designation and grant award of $1.5M.
Plans for action
We’ve been planning for ferry electrification for years. Both our 2040 Long Range Plan and System Electrification Plan have paved the way for how we’ll transition to hybrid electric. These documents have also been closely informed by specific requirements from the Washington State governor and legislature, outlined below.
2040 Long Range Plan
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.
System Electrification Plan
We developed a System Electrification Plan (PDF 4MB) that expands on the 2040 Long Range Plan (PDF 11.4MB) to evaluate alternatives and propose an efficient strategy for using hybrid electric vessels throughout the system. The plan was delivered to the legislature in January 2021.
RCW 70A.45.050 limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for state agencies by reducing GHG emissions by 70% by 2040 and achieving net zero GHG emissions by 2050
History of community engagement
2040 Long Range plan engagement
During the development of WSF’s 2040 Long Range plan, WSF conducted extensive public outreach, resulting in participation by more than 7,400 people. Four clear themes emerged from community engagement. One of those themes, Sustainability and Resilience, showed broad support for WSF’s investment in infrastructure to maintain reliable service in a changing climate and reduce environmental impact. Public comments overwhelmingly supported “greening the fleet.” One of the top 5 priorities identified in over 2,000 public comments was broad support for WSF to design resilient and environmentally friendly vessels and terminals.
We will conduct community engagement activities for construction activities, including terminal electrification, and will provide information here about these upcoming activities. Stay tuned for more information about these efforts.
To transition to a hybrid electric fleet, WSF will:
Build 16 new hybrid vessels
Retrofit 6 current diesel vessels to hybrid
Retire 13 diesel vessels
Electrify 16 terminals
WSF will approach this transition in three key project areas over the next 20 years: vessel construction, vessel conversion, and terminal electrification.
The System Electrification Plan calls for delivering 16 new hybrid electric vessels by 2040. WSF is seeking a shipbuilder to build the first five funded vessels – setting WSF on its new course – for a greener ferry system, with reduced emissions of up to 76% when the plan is fully implemented.
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 March 2023, the Invitation for Bid was posted to secure a shipbuilder to convert the Jumbo Mark II vessels. Each vessel will be at the selected shipyard for approximately nine months, with the Wenatchee conversion first between September 2023 and May 2024. The Tacoma and Puyallup will follow in the two subsequent years. We would like to acknowledge that the $35 million grant funding from the federal Volkswagen settlement, administered by the Washington State Department of Ecology, was instrumental in helping WSF launch the vessel conversion effort, one of the first funding sources for this critical work.
We are working with the five different utilities – Seattle City Light, Puget Sound Energy, Orcas Power & Light, Tacoma Power, and Jefferson PUD – that supply electricity to our terminals to supply additional power from the substations to the affected terminals. Most utilities do have enough electricity to supply the needs of ferries, but each utility has different challenges to overcome to meet this need. We’ll be working with utilities early and often as we collaborate to build a hybrid electric ferry system.
In addition, WSF is in preliminary engineering to bring power to Colman Dock in Seattle, to the Bainbridge Island and Bremerton terminals, and to the Clinton/Mukilteo route. Construction at these terminals is anticipated to start in 2025 and expected to wrap up in 2027.
Hybrid electric ferries
While WSF is one of the first – and largest – ferry systems in the US to electrify its fleet, this technology has been broadly applied throughout northern Europe with over 70 comparable vessels in service going back to 2015. In general, hybrid ferries provide additional system resiliency by implementing a second power source that allows a vessel to continue service if there are any issues with the electricity. In addition, having diesel as a secondary power source allows WSF to manage utility costs in a way that is most cost-effective while still providing GHG emission reductions. This model also facilitates an earlier transition to electrification, with the first vessels operating as hybrids prior to full terminal electrification.
We are beginning electrification in our Central Sound routes as they are the largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions and electrifying these urban area routes can also significantly improve air quality for local communities. Jumbo Mark II vessels currently contribute 26% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions of our ferry system, and Olympic Class vessels contribute 25%. Replacing both will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 50%. Converting a Jumbo Mark II vessel will reduce carbon emissions by 48,565 metric tons/year – the equivalent of taking 10,000 cars off the road.
By 2040, emission reductions will include:
Reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 76%
Reduction in sulfur oxide emissions by 75%
Reduction in nitrous oxide emissions by 94%
Reduction in particulate matter emissions by 90%
These greener ferries have the added benefit of reducing operating costs, virtually eliminating engine noise and vibration, and reducing maintenance costs.