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State ferries looks to cut pollution with electric-powered boats

The state ferry system has unveiled a plan to phase-out the biggest gas hogs in the fleet by converting them to hybrid electric engines. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE – The state ferry system has unveiled a plan to phase-out the biggest gas hogs in the fleet by converting them to hybrid electric engines.

WSDOT is well behind its targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions and ferries are the biggest polluters in the agency.

The three biggest boats burn 26 percent of the ferry system’s total diesel consumption, so the early focus in on swapping out the diesel engines aboard those Jumbo Mark II class marine vessels, according to Amy Scarton, the assistant secretary for the state ferry system.

Since the M/V Tacoma, Puyallup, and Wenatchee are all due for major overhauls anyway, engineers want to swap those diesel engines for high-powered battery banks.

“That technology is off the shelf, the vessel is going to be laid up anyway and this is a great investment to make them cleaner and greener," Scarton said.

Converting the boats will cost about $35 million each. Scarton said another $7 million will be needed to rework the terminal, and then there’s the cost of bringing the utility hook-ups down to the shore. Those costs could range between $2 million and $10 million.

However, converting one Jumbo Mark II class vessel would save 1.8 million gallons of fuel annually, Scarton said. She added that converting all three could save more than 5 million gallons of fuel each year, and that savings could offset the cost of going hybrid.

“The project can pay for itself in between four to seven years,” Scarton said.

Scarton said the governor is looking to get some seed money to get this program started, but right now the next move is up to state lawmakers.

“So there's a lot of innovative things we can do to get this project done but we're looking for the seed money from the legislature this month,” Scarton said.

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