Skagit County could become home to the country’s first all-electric vehicle ferry, which could replace the aging Guemes Island ferry.
County Commissioners heard a presentation Tuesday from Joe Payne, owner of EESI Marine, an electrical system design firm that specializes in ships.
Payne said the proposed 28- to 30-car electric vessel, while more expensive up front than a traditional ferry, would save the county close to $150,000 a year in maintenance and energy costs.
“We’re looking at a zero-emissions ferry that’s actually going to save you a lot of money,” he said.
Electric power systems eliminate most of the moving parts that require ongoing maintenance in an internal combustion engine, Payne said, and eliminate the risk of fires or oil leaks.
“The only real fire risks are the cars sitting on the deck,” he said.
Rachel Rowe, ferry operations division manager for county Public Works, said the Guemes Island ferry has 10 and 13 active years left, but cautioned that maintenance costs and the price of a new vessel are likely to increase.
The only other electric vehicle ferry in the world is a much larger ship in Norway, Payne said. There are some ferries that draw electricity through a cable, similar to a cable car, but Payne’s proposed ship would use battery power.
Payne started working on this design about three years ago, when battery technology made it feasible.
With new technology, there is often the possibility of additional risk, but Payne said his design uses proven technology, only in a new application.
Eric Engleberg, engineering consultant from Art Anderson Associates in Bremerton, outlined a series of state and federal funding programs that could offset the estimated $10.5 million cost of the electric vessel.
Rowe added that many of these programs have strict deadlines, and she hopes the county commissioners will move quickly.
“Something like this that has so much benefit environmentally it is certainly a worthwhile thing to look at,” Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said.
The board of commissioners is considering all options, said Commissioner Ron Wesen, and still must investigate the long-term costs.