State looks to Norway for guidance on converting ferries to hybrid-electric

Washington State Ferries wants to create giant hybrid vehicles on the water by switching out some diesel engines on its largest ferries with electric drives.

The state is hoping to do electric conversions on two of the four engines on the each of the ferries in the Jumbo Mark II class, the Puyallup, Tacoma and Wenatchee.

Norway is already running all-electric ferries, and on Thursday the Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, Kåre R. Aas, rode the ferry Tacoma with officials from the Washington State Department of Transportation to compare notes about the technology.

"Back in Norway, it goes very well. I would say we have good progress," Aas told KIRO 7.

He expects a third of Norway's ferries to be all-electric in seven years.

Washington State Transportation Secretary Roger Millar said electrifying the fleet here is a priority of Gov. Jay Inslee.

"Our greenhouse gas footprint is larger than we'd like it to be. The ferries are a big part of it. Electrifying the ferry fleet would go a long way," Millar said. "It would also save the taxpayers a lot of money because they're cheaper to run."

Washington State Ferries will start an in-depth cost analysis in June, but an official provided a rough estimate that converting each boat would run $30 million to $35 million, plus $2.5 million to $10 million for on-shore charging equipment at each dock.

By comparison, a regular propulsion upgrade costs $8 million to $10 million, although the state thinks having power that's half electric would save $60 million over 40 years.

Amy Scarton, who heads Washington State Ferries, says the goal is to get the first electric drives on a ferry in 2021.

"Once we get it running, as a Prius on the water, from those savings from our fuel bill we can convert the second boat and the third boat and so on," Scarton said.

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