Crews work to replace and refit a water filter system aboard the Puyallup at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility in Bainbridge on October 31, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Crews work to replace and refit a water filter system aboard the Puyallup at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility in Bainbridge on October 31, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Washington State Ferries plans for an electric-hybrid fleet

It will be a literal sea change for the nation’s biggest system — and a technically ambitious one.

As the ferry boat pulls away from the dock, the rumble from the engine grows louder and vibrations rattle passengers on the sun deck.

A quieter, cleaner ride could be on the horizon for people and marine life as Washington State Ferries embarks on an experimental plan to transition the fleet from diesel to electric power.

“It’s new territory, a lot of stuff depends on what we think we can do,” said Mark Nitchman, a chief engineer for state ferries. “But we should espouse what we stand for and lead the way.”

To accomplish this ambitious plan, the agency is starting by converting the three largest ferries in the fleet from diesel to hybrid-electric propulsion. The three Jumbo Mark II boats — the Tacoma, Puyallup and Wenatchee — are the biggest fuel consumers, burning together 14,000 gallons of diesel a day. They usually run on the Seattle-to-Bainbridge and Edmonds-to-Kingston routes.

At the same time, the state has contracted Seattle-based Vigor to build up to five electric-hybrid Olympic class ferry boats, which the state hopes to put into service from 2022 through 2028. They are smaller than the Jumbo Mark II boats and are estimated to cost between $140 million to $180 million per vessel.

This is all part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s goal of moving toward a zero-emissions fleet, which today is the largest consumer of diesel fuel in the state, using over 18 million gallons of diesel a year, according to the state.

Shaft alley aboard the Puyallup at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility in Bainbridge on October 31, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Shaft alley aboard the Puyallup at the Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility in Bainbridge on October 31, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Washington State Ferries is leading the way to electric ferries that haul cars and passengers, Nitchman said. And if all goes well, the state could operate the biggest hybrid auto-transporting ferries anywhere in the country.

Replacing the diesel engines in the massive boats with battery packs will be no easy task. Nitchman likens the conversion process to major surgery.

“There’s a lot to learn. We’ve never run a hybrid boat before,” he said. “I’m excited to be diving into this technology.”

Last month, the state selected Siemens, a global company that specializes in power generation, to do the conversion work. Planning work will continue through 2020 with construction likely to begin in 2021.

The plan is to remove two of four diesel engines, which spin a generator to create electricity, and replace them with large battery packs to power the motors. Money from the Volkswagen settlement is paying for a large chunk of converting the first boat, which is estimated to cost about $40 million.

Moving toward this system, boats will not only emit fewer pollutants and consume less fuel but also have fewer parts, saving on labor costs, Nitchman said.

“But there is no free lunch,” he added.

Batteries must be replaced every four to five years, and crews will have to learn a new technology.

Mark Nitchman, a chief engineer for Washington State Ferries, said installing hybrid engines on the vessels would be a great legacy to leave before retiring. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Mark Nitchman, a chief engineer for Washington State Ferries, said installing hybrid engines on the vessels would be a great legacy to leave before retiring. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The conversion is the less-complicated portion, said Ian Sterling, a state ferries spokesperson. To be able to run an electric fleet, charging stations have to be designed and built, and the state has to coordinate that work with various utilities providers.

Washington State Ferries set a goal in its 2040 long range plan that in 20 years, 22 of 26 boats in the fleet would be plug-in hybrids and most terminals would have charging stations.

Until the charging infrastructure is installed, the remaining diesel engines will charge the batteries. Only one is needed to do this, so running as a hybrid system will still reduce emissions, according to Nitchman.

Once charging stations are up and running, the agency assumes charging times can be limited to about 20 minutes, the time it takes to offload and onload many boats.

That’s when the real savings will be seen.

“There are savings even before shore charging, just not as much,” Sterling said.

As the big boats are being converted, the state also is building new hybrid boats. They will work much the same way as the converted boats with diesel engines powering the batteries. The diesel engines will then be used as a back-up system.

A lot of the details for both projects are still being worked out.

“It will take a long time to be all-electric, but that’s ultimately where we want to be,” Sterling said.

Got a question? Email me at streetsmarts@heraldnet.com or call 425-374-4165. Please include your name and city of residence.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Ariel Garcia, 4, was last seen Wednesday morning in an apartment in the 4800 block of Vesper Dr. (Photo provided by Everett Police)
How to donate to the family of Ariel Garcia

Everett police believe the boy’s mother, Janet Garcia, stabbed him repeatedly and left his body in Pierce County.

A ribbon is cut during the Orange Line kick off event at the Lynnwood Transit Center on Saturday, March 30, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
‘A huge year for transit’: Swift Orange Line begins in Lynnwood

Elected officials, community members celebrate Snohomish County’s newest bus rapid transit line.

Bethany Teed, a certified peer counselor with Sunrise Services and experienced hairstylist, cuts the hair of Eli LeFevre during a resource fair at the Carnegie Resource Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Carnegie center is a one-stop shop for housing, work, health — and hope

The resource center in downtown Everett connects people to more than 50 social service programs.

Everett mall renderings from Brixton Capital. (Photo provided by the City of Everett)
Topgolf at the Everett Mall? Mayor’s hint still unconfirmed

After Cassie Franklin’s annual address, rumors circled about what “top” entertainment tenant could be landing at Everett Mall.

Foamy brown water, emanating a smell similar to sewage, runs along the property line of Lisa Jansson’s home after spilling off from the DTG Enterprises property on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Snohomish, Washington. Jansson said the water in the small stream had been flowing clean and clear only a few weeks earlier. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Neighbors of Maltby recycling facility assert polluted runoff, noise

For years, the DTG facility has operated without proper permits. Residents feel a heavy burden as “watchdogs” holding the company accountable.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Stanwood in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Stanwood man gets federal prison for selling fentanyl on dark web

In 2013, Christerfer Frick was sentenced to nine years for trafficking drugs. He began selling online upon his release in 2020.

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

Dan Templeman speaks during a forum lead by The Daily Herald on housing affordability at the Mukilteo Library on Thursday, April 11, 2024 in Mukilteo, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
At Herald forum, experts affirm Housing First model, despite downsides

At the Mukilteo Library, panelists discussed drug-contaminated housing and lengthy cleanup efforts in Snohomish County.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

A fire at a home near Alderwood Mall sent one neighbor and one firefighter to the hospital. (Photo provided by South County Fire)
Officials: Residents returned to burning Lynnwood home to rescue dogs

Five people and six dogs were displaced in the Thursday afternoon house fire, according to South County Fire.

Featuring a pink blush over a yellow background, WA 64 combines qualities of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink (aka Pink Lady) for a firm, crisp, sweet and tart bite. A naming contest for the new apple runs through May 5, 2024. (Photo provided by Washington State University)
Hey Honeycrisp, this new breed of apple needs a name

Enter a naming contest for WA 64, a hybrid apple with the same baby daddy as Cosmic Crisp.

Police respond to a wrong way crash Thursday night on Highway 525 in Lynnwood after a police chase. (Photo provided by Washington State Department of Transportation)
Lynnwood woman, 83, killed in wrong-way crash following police pursuit

Deputies said they were chasing a man, 37, south on Highway 525 when he swerved into northbound lanes, killing an oncoming driver.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.