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A fully electric ferry with a range of 22 nautical miles
General News · 24th February 2020
Carrie Saxifrage
I’m sorry that I will be away during the ferries visioning workshop on February 28th at the Gorge hall from 2:30 to 4:00. I wrote an article on making our ferries electric for the National Observer this winter, and have edited it down for your consideration. The full version with links is here. The article aligns with the most simple phrasing of the safest way forward: electrify everything. (And decrease consumption).

I’m concerned that, as we get further along the accelerating climate-breakdown trajectory, places where huge amounts of climate pollution benefit only a few people could be low priority for continuing ferry service. The Cortes ferry emits about 1,000 tons every year, one ton for each of its full-time residents, nearly half of the 2.3 tons of climate compatible emissions per person per year. An electric ferry for Cortes could help secure our future ferry service.

In addition, I agree with Minister Trevena that we might need to think beyond full service car ferries, in view of the inevitable changes ahead. What about passenger ferries? Different routes? Ferries integrated into other forms of transportation? A passenger boat to Vancouver like the steam ships of yore? A van across Quadra? A car share in towns that service ferry dependent communities so we can take a passenger ferry to run our errands? How do we get from A to B with the lowest emissions possible?

I once hitched across Quadra, caught the Island Link to Nanaimo, the bus from Horseshoe Bay into Vancouver and then hopped on a bike share to get around the city on world class bike lanes. Fun!

Meanwhile, BC Ferries is spending its infrastructure money on LNG ferries even though the latest research states that LNG is more climate-destabilizing than other marine fuels. It could be spending that money for on-shore electrification of shorter run ferries and integration of ferries into a larger public transportation system.

Why LNG Ferries are Terrible
LNG is compressed methane, a gas which has 84 times the warming potential of CO2 in the time frame that matters for preventing further climate breakdown – the next 20 years. The problem is that methane is lighter than air so it leaks away and floats into the atmosphere at every opportunity. The production leaks – “fugitive emissions” – puts methane on a par with coal in terms of climate damage. Here is some terrifying eye candy to bring it home . The marine engine leaks – “methane slip” – make it more climate damaging than other marine fuels.

Why Electric Ferries are Great
By 2022, BC Ferries will have 6 “electric ready” ferries on the water but it does not plan to use their onshore charging capabilities until some time in the future. Two of those ferries will be on the Quadra-Campbell River run. But an “electric ready” ferry continues to pollute until it’s electric capacity are used. BC Ferries says the technology isn’t ready for on-shore charging but that’s just not true. It’s being done all over the world, especially in Scandinavia. Norway just ordered sixty of them. According to industry analysts, even a weak grid can charge batteries overnight. For example, Denmark’s E-Ferry Ellen travels 22 nm and gets fully charged overnight and topped up through the day at its home harbor in the time it takes cars to load and unload.

Electric ferries are cost effective. The E-Ferry Ellen cost approximately 40% more than traditional vessels but fuel costs are anticipated to be 40% less. According to Siemens, on average an electric vessel will pay for itself in five and a half years. After that, it increases profitability. Another recent study puts the payback period for an electric ferry at under 7 years with operational savings of 51.3% over the diesel-electric alternative. The Pacific Northwest’s reliance on cheap hydro power improves the case.

It makes no sense for BC Ferries to spend more money on climate-damaging LNG vessels while holding back funding for the infrastructure that will eliminate climate-damaging emissions.

BC Ferries uses LNG because: 1) the natural gas industry has convinced people that, because methane is cleaner at the point of burning, it is climate safe (summary of why this isn’t so) so they can do sloppy green-washing with it; and 2) the Provincial government under both the Liberals and the NDP have placed a heavy hand on the scales for LNG.

The Liberals passed a law that let gas utilities give infrastructure money to BC Ferries in exchange for lock-in contracts, an incentive worth millions of dollars to embrace LNG ferries. The NDP have continued to advocate for LNG.

I’m not sure why Minister Trevena hasn’t done more to prevent BC from jumping into this natural gas hole. Why get behind creating a dilemma in which will either be a lot of stranded assets or we will continue on the extinction trajectory? It’s unethical. And speeding the climate breakdown is just one part of the damage from government subsidized fracked gas.

If We Can, We Should
An island acquaintance once referred to me as “extreme” about climate change. But isn’t it much more extreme to drive humans to suffering and species to extinction when we don’t have to? In my view, that is a totally radical thing to do. The prudent approach is to make every greenhouse gas reduction we can, as quickly as possible.

One Last Thing – Food Trucks and the Ferry Advisory Committee
I attended a meeting of the FAC last December to support the idea of a van with priority loading to take Klahoose elders to medical appointments, particularly in the summer. This proposal was approved, for the benefit of everyone. Thanks to the Klahoose First Nation!

But Jim Abrams really had to give it a lot of thought because, heaven forbid, it might mean that his constituents would have to deal with one additional vehicle on their ferry on four runs a week. I found his reluctance shocking. Is he really our island’s gatekeeper?

Then Bill Dougan from the Gorge Harbor Marina spoke about the plight of the businesses that bring across the food we need to survive here and how difficult that gets during the summer overloads when the frozen foods melt and the produce goes bad before it reaches the island. People wait for the delivery truck to stockpile and boaters tell each other that food supplies on Cortes are unreliable. The stores requested priority loading to better ensure our food supply, particularly in the summer.

And they didn’t get it. Now the FAC has to put together a more limited proposal.

That shocks me too. Supplying food is an essential service.

How can our FAC not have more power to secure the island’s basic interests? Can Minister Trevena help us out here?

In conclusion, thanks so much to the people who will make Minister Trevena’s visioning session for the good of the island! I really appreciate it, and I know others do too!

Yours for zero emissions ferries for runs under 22 nm, and a reliable summer food supply,

Carrie Saxifrage