Washington awards $150M contract to convert ferries to hybrid-electric power

By: - August 15, 2023 5:48 pm

Washington State Ferries awarded a contract Tuesday for converting its three largest ferries to hybrid-electric power. The M/V Kitsap, pictured here, at Bremerton is not one of those to be worked on under the contract. (Chris Davies / Washington State Department of Transportation)

Washington State Ferries announced Tuesday it has awarded a roughly $150 million contract to ship builder Vigor to convert up to three of the state’s largest vessels to hybrid-electric power.

Under the deal, Vigor in September will start work on the Wenatchee ferry at its Harbor Island shipyard in Seattle. The Jumbo Mark II vessel, with a 202-vehicle capacity, is expected back in service on the Seattle to Bainbridge route next summer. 

The company would begin converting the Tacoma in 2024. Washington State Ferries has the option to extend the contract for the third boat, Puyallup, in 2025. These currently diesel-powered boats generally serve the routes linking Seattle and Bainbridge Island, and Edmonds and Kingston.

“We’re tackling the biggest emitters in our fleet first, the Jumbo Mark IIs, which contribute 26% of our ferries’ greenhouse gas emissions,” said Matt von Ruden, system electrification program administrator. “When our terminals are electrified in 2026, we expect emissions from these three vessels to drop by roughly 95%.”

Vigor’s bid of just over $150 million is 40% higher than the $120 million estimate of the state engineer. Everett Ship Repair, the other firm seeking the work, submitted a $166 million bid, according to an agency release.

This contract is for conversion of two vessels for approximately $100 million with the state holding an option to convert the third vessel in 2025 at a fixed price of around $50 million, according to the release.

It also pays Vigor to replace the propulsion control systems in each vessel, which are experiencing equipment failures, according to the release. Replacement parts for the systems are often unavailable.  This effort will increase reliability and ensure the Jumbo Mark IIs are available for decades to come, ferry officials said.

Originally, the state intended to award a contract for the work on all three vessels. In June, when it was clear final bids would be well above state engineer estimates, ferry officials pivoted, committing to do two boats with the option for the third. 

Moving the largest ferries to hybrid-electric power is one of several steps the ferry system is pursuing as it looks to wean itself off diesel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The agency’s long term plans call for retrofitting more ferries to hybrid-electric, building new hybrid-powered vessels, adding charging stations at terminals and retiring diesel ferries.

Thus far, there is $1.33 billion secured to build up to five hybrid electric Olympic Class vessels and convert up to four other boats to hybrid electric.

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Jerry Cornfield
Jerry Cornfield

Jerry Cornfield joined the Standard after 20 years covering Olympia statehouse news for The Everett Herald. Earlier in his career, he worked for daily and weekly papers in Santa Barbara, California.