BREMERTON – The Washington state ferry system is exploring using liquefied natural gas as a way to save money on fuel prices.
Ferry officials want to switch six boats from handling diesel to natural gas, the Kitsap Sun reported. Washington State Ferries director David Moseley told the newspaper he’d like go to the 2013 Legislature with a security and operations plan approved by the Coast Guard and ask to begin the retrofit program.
Washington would be among a handful of agencies pursuing new natural-gas vessels or converting diesel boats. Staten Island Ferries received a federal grant to retrofit a vessel. Meanwhile, Quebec Ferries Company contracted to build two LNG ferries and is taking bids for a third.
“We don’t think it’s crazy. We don’t think it’s radical,” said George Capacci, WSF’s deputy chief of operations and construction. “We think it’s the logical evolution of marine propulsion.”
Ferry officials say converting the boats to take natural gas could cut fuel costs in half. The switch to natural gas also could reduce particulate matter and sulfur oxide emissions, as well as slash nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide.
But the biggest challenge, officials said, may be convincing the public that it’s safe.
Capacci said gasoline in the cars on the ferry is much more dangerous than liquefied natural gas.
“Safety is our paramount goal,” he said. “We would not do anything that would be unsafe. The Coast Guard would not let us do anything that would be unsafe. Public perception is the main challenge.”
The state Legislature provided $1 million last session for the plan: $750,000 to add LNG-fueled ferries to the state’s security plan and begin public outreach, and $250,000 to request proposals for the conversions.
Washington State Ferries estimates it will cost $103 million to retrofit its six Issaquah-class boats. Officials think they could save $184 million in fuel costs by the time the boats are retired, for a $71 million return on investment, the newspaper reported. The retrofit work would be paid off in 10 years.
The state ferries use more than 17 million gallons of fuel a year at a cost of $67.3 million.
Officials project the cost of the low sulfur diesel currently used in the boats to climb from $3.77 a gallon to $4.03 in 2027. By comparison, liquefied natural gas delivered to the boats is forecast to cost $1.41 in 2015 and peak at $1.92 in 2027, a savings of 52 to 60 percent over diesel.