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Hybrid vessels just a start as B.C. Ferries works toward fully electric sailings on Gabriola route

Ferry corporation seeking support from local governments for electrification plan
B.C. Ferries is in the midst of gathering support from local governments for a plan that would fully electrify Island-class ferries. A pair of hybrid ferries are slated for the Gabriola-downtown Nanaimo ferry route for 2022. (News Bulletin file)

Elected officials in the Nanaimo area are supportive of B.C. Ferries’ plan for electric-powered ferries transporting passengers in local waters.

City of Nanaimo council voted unanimously in favour of supporting B.C. Ferries’ Island-class ferry “electrification program” last Monday and a delegation is expected to make a similar pitch to the Regional District of Nanaimo board at its Tuesday, Jan. 26 meeting.

B.C. Ferries previously announced that two hybrid diesel-electric ferries for the downtown Nanaimo-Gabriola Island route would arrive in 2022 and in an e-mail, it told the News Bulletin that the Island-class ferries are battery-equipped and “designed for full electric operation once shore charging infrastructure and funding becomes available.” In the interim, says B.C. Ferries, the ships have been fitted with hybrid technology “that is more sustainable than existing diesel-operated vessels, but not as environmentally friendly as battery operation.”

The program’s first phase will see modifications to existing Island-class ferries as well as upgrades to ferry terminals that would see rapid charging systems, according to information in the RDN board agenda. The second phase, for which B.C. Ferries says it is finalizing plans, could see seven Island-class ferries built domestically as well as upgrades to affected terminals to accommodate the new vessels and implement systems for rapid charging.

Vanessa Craig, RDN board vice-chairperson and Gabriola representative, said her constituents are looking forward to the ferries, as the commute to Nanaimo will be more convenient, and she echoes the ferry corporation’s enthusiasm.

“I think they’ll be more environmentally friendly,” said Craig. “Certainly if we can electrify them, the amount of aquatic noise, or noise emitted by the ferries, I think will go down as well the [greenhouse gas emissions], so I think that’s quite favourable and I think there will be a bit of a curve in people adjusting their travelling to meet the more frequent ferry crossings.”

RELATED: Hybrid ferries for Gabriola part of plans to reduce emissions

Leonard Krog, Nanaimo mayor and RDN director, said B.C. Ferries hasn’t informed the city on changes that would come to the downtown terminal, but said the plan will aid in the city’s efforts for carbon neutrality.

“From the city’s perspective, we’re delighted to see what will amount to a fairly significant reduction in the carbon footprint of B.C. Ferries,” said Krog. “Keep in mind B.C. Ferries plays an enormous role in the local economy. We have three terminals within the City of Nanaimo … so this is a boost, electrical pun intended.”

In the e-mail, B.C. Ferries said it is putting together a proposal to present to the federal government to seek federal stimulus funding to accelerate the program to provide shore charging infrastructure sooner and associated upgrades to the vessels.

In all, B.C. Ferries estimates the project will cost $1.19 billion. While the company said it will contribute to the cost, initiating the two stages is reliant on government funding, it said.

Local governments are being asked to request funding for the project and indicate support for the electrification plan and its potential to combat climate change and protect the marine environment. B.C. Ferries’ literature on the electrification program also touts economic recovery benefits through construction, consulting, administration, manufacturing, shipbuilding and other trades jobs and training opportunities.

Thus far, the plan would only apply locally to the ferry route from downtown Nanaimo to Gabriola Island.

RELATED: B.C. Ferries budgets $200M for more hybrid ferries

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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