WSDOT secures new funding for cleaner, greener ferries

Oct. 24, 2019
The largest ferries in the state will be converted by Siemens to hybrid electric propulsion.

Washington State Ferries (WSF) will convert its three Jumbo Mark II class ferries from diesel to hybrid electric propulsion following the approval of up to $35 million to support the first ferry's retrofit by the trustee administering the nationwide federal Volkswagen settlement.        

WSF selected Siemens in September to conduct a propulsion control system replacement and hybrid conversion studies and system design for the three largest ferries in its fleet, which account for more than 26 percent of WSF’s annual fuel consumption – five million gallons of diesel per year. The ferry system is the largest consumer of diesel fuel in the state with more than 18 million gallons of diesel burned each year.

During the next several years, Siemens will work with WSF to electrify the ferries, ultimately transitioning them from diesel fuel to nearly zero-carbon-emission vessels as directed by the executive order.

“Converting the biggest, dirtiest ferries in the fleet is a huge milestone in our efforts to decarbonize the state and fulfill our obligation to help defeat climate change,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “In addition to reducing emissions, moving to an all-electric ferry fleet will save taxpayers money on ferry operating costs, virtually eliminate engine noise and vibration that can hurt orca whales and improve reliability of service.”

Reducing diesel exhaust and carbon pollution from marine vessels is one of the priorities identified for Washington’s share of the VW settlement by the Washington Department of Ecology, which oversees investing the settlement funds. Other sources will fund conversions of the remaining Jumbo Mark II vessels.

“Air pollution from diesel emissions is one of the most pressing public health threats facing Washington, and converting these ferries to hybrid propulsion will slash pollution in our state,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

In addition to cost savings and reduced maintenance costs, converting the Jumbo Mark IIs will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 48,565 metric tons per year, equivalent to taking more than 10,000 cars off the road. Hybrid ferries will also cut the emissions of nitrogen oxide, a toxic form of air pollution, by 184.5 metric tons per year once all three ferries are operating with hybrid electric propulsion.

According to Siemens Marine Director David Grucza, the WSF conversions will provide safe and supportable vessels that offer a projected lifecycle cost savings of about $60 million.

“This will put WSF on track to reach its greenhouse gas reduction goal,” Grucza said. “The conversions will lower fuel and maintenance costs by more than $14 million annually. Additionally, ferry passengers will enjoy more pleasant and cleaner rides that are free from diesel engine noise, vibration and exhaust.”

Siemens is now completing an engineering study in effort to update obsolete equipment on the Jumbo Mark II class vessels. Upon receipt of funding, anticipated in November 2019, Siemens will proceed with the hybrid conversion design, which includes removal of two propulsion generators, installation of battery storage and development of the rapid charging system. Siemens engineers will then work alongside the selected shipyard to complete the hybridization process on all three vessels. The project will also include rapid shore charging stations at each pier.