Skagway works to pioneer one of the first electric ferry programs in the country

An Alaska Marine Highway ferry docked in Skagway. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)
An Alaska Marine Highway ferry docked in Skagway. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

Last week Skagway’s assembly passed a resolution establishing an electric ferry pilot program. The resolution comes on the heels of a major announcement by the federal government that $250 million of the roughly $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill would be earmarked for such programs with at least one of them in Alaska.

Jan Wrentmore, chair of Skagway’s ad hoc ferry committee, says Skagway is in a strong position to receive some of those funds.

“We’ve been studying the concept of ferry independence for 10 years. The committee’s worked we have four reports. We’ve documented traffic, we’ve documented revenue in Lynn Canal. Now we’ve looked at the legalities of a ferry authority, we have looked at whether certain vessels would work for Skagway or not. So there’s a huge body of work, which is why I think we’re in a great place to be a pilot project under the infrastructure bill,” said Wrentmore.

Skagway Assembly member Orion Hanson told the assembly last week that he drafted the resolution to make it clear that the community wants to continue to work on developing lower emission options in its marine transportation sector.

“What we’re trying to establish is a less pollutive ferry alternative that works in conjunction with AMHS. If we pass this tonight, we will be able to go forth and lobby to have this happen here in our community in the upper Lynn Canal. I think it’s a very exciting time. And we’re at the forefront,” Hanson said.

The assembly approved the resolution unanimously. On Monday, Hanson told KHNS that the municipality will need to continue pursuing the federal infrastructure dollars and working with state partners.

“We need to come up with a really good business plan that is in conjunction with the Alaska Marine Highway System, and the Department of Transportation because we need to work underneath their umbrella,” Hanson said.

The Skagway Assembly recently drafted a memorandum of understanding with Yukon Energy to bring renewable electricity to Skagway during the summer months for cruise ships to plug into while in port. If that deal goes through, it would also mean the port would have the necessary electrical infrastructure to power an electric ferry.

Skagway’s ferry committee has looked at two options to augment service. One, an electric model that could run between Skagway and Haines, and could be powered by Skagway’s existing hydroelectric grid even if a deal with Yukon Energy doesn’t go through. The other is a hybrid-electric option for a boat that could reach as far south as Juneau, though designs for that vessel are still in the conceptual stage.

Earlier this fall the municipality also signed an agreement with the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to work toward the acquisition of the state ferry peninsula and ferry terminal property.

With Skagway taking over its port from the current leaseholder White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in 2023 and making agreements to take over the state ferry terminal and electrify the port, Skagway is actively pursuing green energy solutions to combat unreliable ferry service in the upper Lynn Canal.

KHNS - Haines

KHNS is our partner station in Haines. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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