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News / Northwest

Washington opens bidding to build its five new electric ferries

Bids are due by late 2024; first vessels expected in 2028

By Daniel Schrager, The Bellingham Herald
Published: June 10, 2024, 8:31pm

BELLINGHAM—Washington State Ferries are in line for an upgrade, and it will mean less pollution and fewer delays, according to state officials. In late May, the largest ferry system in the country announced a nationwide bidding process to build five new hybrid ferries.

Shipyards have to submit their bids by late 2024, before the contract is awarded. The first two boats are expected to arrive in 2028, followed by two more in 2029 and one more in 2030. Eventually, the state hopes to have 16 new hybrid ferries, and convert six existing ferries, according to the Washington State Ferries System Electrification Plan.

“In addition to strengthening our workforce, we share the public’s urgency in bringing these new vessels on board as quickly as possible… More than ten shipyards have expressed interest. What that means to taxpayers is we’ll have good competition and lowest possible price,” Washington State Ferries assistant secretary Steve Nevey stated in a press release.

The Evergreen State has the largest ferry system in the U.S., and served 18.7 million riders in 2023.

How will electric ferries impact environment?

The five new boats will save 240 million gallons of diesel and over 8 million tons of carbon emissions in the long run, WSDOT said. Currently, the ferry system emits more greenhouse gasses than any other state agency. It’s far easier for ferries to go electric than other transportation systems, according to Darrin Magee, director of Western Washington University’s Institute for Energy Studies.

“One of the biggest concerns you have with road vehicles is weight, and even greater with airplanes. But that essentially disappears with ships because of buoyancy,” Magee said in a phone call with McClatchy. “That’s always there and it’s free.”

The new ferries are expected to hold over 1,500 passengers and 160 cars. In addition to the program’s environmental benefits, it will serve to update the state’s aging ferry fleet that has experienced delays in recent years.

The state has already secured nearly $2 billion of the $4 billion that it will take to build all 16 ships, but Magee said the high cost will be offset in the long run.

“Efficiency of electric motors is just heads and [shoulders] above internal combustion engines. Even the most efficient of diesel engines can’t hold a candle to electric motors… In that regard, they will have lower operating costs long term,” Magee said.