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WSDOT Plans On Building Up Its Hybrid-Electrical Fleet

Thu June 27, 2024 - West Edition #13

Under this contracting approach, two vessels could be delivered in 2028, two more in 2029 and the final ferry in 2030
WSDOT photo
Under this contracting approach, two vessels could be delivered in 2028, two more in 2029 and the final ferry in 2030

The ferry system in Washington is the largest in the United States. Recently, WSDOT launched its national contracting process to begin the bidding and building process for five new hybrid-electric ferries.

WSDOT invited potential shipbuilders to submit qualifications to build five new hybrid-electric vessels. Later this year, the qualified firms will submit their bids.

Under this contracting approach, two vessels could be delivered in 2028, two more in 2029 and the final ferry in 2030 (subject to final bid prices and available funding). These boats are expected to support the Mukilteo/Clinton and Seattle/Bremerton routes.

Hybrid-Electric Ferries Offer Healthier, Financially Sustainable Future

Current diesel vessels are one of the state's largest emitters of climate pollution, burning nearly 19 million gal. of diesel fuel each year. Hybrid-electric ferries not only bring Washington closer to a cleaner, healthier and more financially sustainable future, they're also the fastest path to growing its fleet.

Hybrid-electric ferries have been in design for more than a year and shipbuilders across the country are interested in building these vessels.

The five new ferries will save approximately 240 million gal. of diesel over their 60-year lifespan.

Emissions will be reduced from the current 180,000 metric tons to 45,000 metric tons annually systemwide.

Support for hybrid-electric vessels began in 2018 with an executive order for WSDOT to begin transitioning to an emission-free fleet. A similar executive order went into effect in 2020. There also is a law requiring state agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent by 2040. After that, greenhouse gas emissions are required to be at net zero by 2050.

In 2020, WSDOT published our System Electrification Plan (PDF 4MB), which explains how it plans to meet those goals by using hybrid-electric vessels and charging stations at the terminals. The plan includes building 16 new vessels in the next 16 years and converting six diesel-only vessels to hybrid-electric. These two actions combined allow the agency to replace and revitalize our aging fleet.

In May 2023, the Washington legislature passed a bill allowing for a faster and more competitive procurement process for the five hybrid-electric ferries. With this new law, out-of-state shipyards can submit bids.

The electrification program is estimated to cost $4 billion. So far, WSDOT has secured $1.68 billion in funding. That includes $599 million from the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) (passed in 2021) and $1.03 billion from Move Ahead Washington (passed in 2022).

Shipyards must pass a rigorous pre-qualification process before they can submit bids. WSDOT will choose one or two winning shipyards. Then, each winning shipyard will be allowed one year for final planning and two years for construction of the first vessel.

This hybrid-electric plan and design is the quickest path to new vessels. WSDOT has legislative direction, funding and design to proceed with the hybrid-electric vessels. The earliest a new diesel vessel could enter service would be 2030, two years beyond the current timeline for the first hybrid-electric ferries and not meet legislative direction, including emissions standards.

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