This was originally posted to: Guemes Island Ferry Facts Coalition

Guemes Ferry Replacement: One Engineer's Perspective

When the Skagit County commissioners first considered powering the next Guemes ferry with electricity, they hoped that an electric ferry could be “safe, reliable, and affordable,” with “fiscal and environmental benefits.”  They hired Glosten, a respected Seattle engineering firm, to analyze a range of propulsion options in conditions specific to the Guemes ferry’s operating profile.
According to publicly available studies, Glosten found that an electric Guemes ferry would be much less reliable and much less affordable than a “baseline” geared diesel ferry.  Glosten also found it “difficult to meet” Skagit County’s operational requirements with an electric ferry.  These difficulties drive up the cost of an electric Guemes ferry to the point where it becomes a poor investment relative to other technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  If the state’s $1.5mn contribution toward the electric Guemes ferry’s charging system could be spent on Puget Sound Energy’s Green Power Program instead, the CO2 emissions reduction would be four times greater than the reduction achieved by operating the 28-car all-electric Guemes ferry over its entire 40-year design life.
Skagit County continued to pursue an electric ferry anyway, which begs three questions:
1. Skagit County prioritizes reliability above all else—so why has it chosen the least reliable propulsion system, according to Glosten?
2. Skagit County is replacing the ferry to “minimize the overall cost of ownership”—so why has it chosen the propulsion system with the highest overall cost of ownership, even after accounting for grants, according to Glosten?
3. Skagit County cares about the environment—so why has it chosen a project that does more to “demonstrate[s] that Skagit County and Washington State are technology leaders” than it does to combat climate change?
As a fourth-generation Guemes ferry rider and a degreed and licensed naval architect and marine engineer, I have grown increasingly concerned as Skagit County officials pushed ahead with electric propulsion despite the apparent lack of engineering validation for their choice.  Until I resigned from Glosten in mid-2019 to return to Anacortes, I was unable to discuss our ferry replacement process outside the company.  After I resigned, I wrote two papers (linked herein), met with all three commissioners, met with key members of the public works department, and met with the ferry committee.  County officials declined to discuss my concerns, so now I am sharing my research with the public to cultivate a greater understanding of the compromises that accompany today’s electric propulsion technology.
My findings are presented in the two papers linked from this page.  This page and these papers are hosted by the Guemes Island Ferry Facts Coalition (GIFFC), a group of islanders who want to ensure that the public fully understands the decisions that Skagit County is making on their behalf.  Although I am grateful for the GIFFC’s efforts to share my findings, I do not belong to the GIFFC, and I cannot sanction any perspectives expressed by the GIFFC, its members, or its guests.  My perspectives are expressed only in this summary and in the two papers linked herein.
Kind regards,
Brent Morrison, P.E.


Guemes Ferry Replacement: One Engineer’s Perspective

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