WSF awards contract to convert largest vessels to hybrid-electric

Washington State Ferries is celebrating a milestone on its journey to zero emissions by 2050, awarding its first shipyard contract to Vigor for the conversion of up to three Jumbo Mark II-class ferries to hybrid-electric power.

While converting WSF’s largest ferries to hybrid-electric, Vigor will also update aging propulsion system controls to extend the life of the vessels, a news release states. Vigor is an industrial business in the Northwest that does specialized shipbuilding, ship repair and handling important, complex projects in support of energy generation, the nation’s infrastructure and national defense.

Vigor’s winning bid was just over $150 million. The state’s estimate was approximately $120 million. The contract is for conversion of two vessels at approximately $100 million with a fixed-price option to convert the third vessel in 2025.

WSF is the largest ferry system in the U.S. and the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions among Washington state agencies, burning 19 million gallons of diesel fuel to support tens of millions of passengers every year, per the release. The shift to hybrid-electric comes in response to direction from Gov. Jay Inslee and the state legislature and aligns with WSF’s Long Range Plan.

“This contract is a big step toward providing our ferry-served communities with better air quality and more sustainable service,” said Matt von Ruden, system electrification program administrator. “We’re tackling the biggest emitters in our fleet first, the Jumbo Mark IIs, which contribute 26% of our ferries’ greenhouse gas emissions. When our terminals are electrified in 2026, we expect emissions from these three vessels to drop by roughly 95%.”

Also, the three vessels are experiencing equipment failures and replacement parts are often unavailable. Electrification and propulsion improvements will increase reliability and ensure the Jumbo Mark IIs are available for decades to come.

In September, Vigor will start work on Wenatchee at its Harbor Island shipyard in Seattle, supporting family-wage jobs across Puget Sound. The ferry is expected to reenter service on the Seattle/Bainbridge route next summer. Vigor will then begin converting Tacoma in 2024. WSF has the option to extend the contract to convert a third boat, the Puyallup, in 2025.

“Vigor and our skilled employees are proud to be continuing our strong partnership with Washington State Ferries,” said Adam Beck, Vigor executive vice president of ship repair.

This is the largest conversion contract in WSF’s $3.98 billion electrification program. Over the next 17 years, WSF will spend $3.7 billion to electrify or build new ferries and $280 million on terminals. So far, WSF has received $1.34 billion, with $1.03 billion from the 2022 Move Ahead Washington transportation package. This state funding builds on over $40 million in competitive grants.

The overall program will:

  • Retrofit six diesel ferries to hybrid electric.
  • Build 16 new hybrid vessels.
  • Retire 13 diesel ferries.
  • Add charging power to 16 terminals.