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

A ferry parked at a dock, a mountain in the background.
An Alaska Marine Highway ferry docked in Skagway. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

Skagway’s local assembly recently passed a resolution establishing an electric ferry pilot program.

The resolution, approved last week, comes on the heels of a major announcement by the federal government that $250 million of the roughly $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill will be earmarked for an “electric or low-emitting ferry pilot program,” with at least one of the pilots conducted in Alaska.

Skagway is in a strong position to receive some of those funds, said Jan Wrentmore, chair of the local ferry committee.

“We’ve been studying the concept of ferry independence for 10 years,” said Wrentmore. “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.”

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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,” said Hanson. “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.”

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.

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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.

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