An artist rendering of B.C. Ferries’ new Island Class ferry, which will be deployed on the Nanaimo-Gabriola route by 2022. (B.C. Ferries image)

Hybrid vessels part of B.C. Ferries’ plans to reduce emissions

Island Class vessels, coming by 2022, part of ferry corporation’s broader strategy

New hybrid vessels connecting Nanaimo and Gabriola Island are a “game changer” locally, and part of a broader plan to reduce emissions, says B.C. Ferries’ CEO.

Mark Collins, president and chief executive officer for B.C. Ferries, said the corporation has placed a firm order for four Island Class vessels – subject to B.C. Ferries Commissioner approval – two of which will be deployed on the Nanaimo-Gabriola route by 2022. He said the two new ferries will increase passenger capacity from 400 to 600 people per hour, increase vehicle capacity from 60 to 94 cars per hour and result in sailings every 30 minutes.

Collins made the comments during a presentation to members of the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce on Friday at the Coast Bastion Hotel, where he talked mainly about B.C. Ferries’ efforts to become more environmentally responsible.

“Climate change is here and it is real,” he said. “It is happening and it is affecting us and we’d better embrace this.”

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B.C. Ferries was recently identified by the federal government as the single biggest emitter of noise in the Salish Sea. Collins said the company takes noise reduction seriously and is taking action.

“It’s not because we are the loudest or we have the nastiest frequencies. It’s because we are out there so much,” he said. “Nobody is on the water more than we are. Therefore we have a special duty to be quiet and this is the quietest ship we’ve ever made.”

Collins said B.C. Ferries is investing half a billion dollars in clean energy solutions and will likely invest $3 billion more in the coming decades.

“$500 million of investment has been put into technologies like liquefied natural gas … [and] we’re putting it into exhaust gas reduction, low-friction coatings, we’re reducing our fuel consumption, we are moving towards lowering h-vac systems on our ship,” he said. “There are a range of technologies that we are deploying to reduce our carbon emissions.”

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Another way B.C. Ferries is attempting to lower its carbon footprint is by replacing its older vessels with newer, more efficient vessels according to Collins. He said the corporation is preparing and planning to replace the aging Queen of Cowichan, Queen of Alberni, Queen of New Westminster and Queen of Coquitlam ferries with 20 per cent larger and 25 per cent more efficient ships.

“We are now seeking a new generation of ship that burns one quarter less power and energy than the ships they replace…” the CEO said. “I’d love it to be half, but the reality is we’ve been trying to find four and five per cent for the last few years and we have now set the stretch target at 25 per cent.”

The Island Class ferries planned for the Nanaimo-Gabriola route will be powered by a hybrid diesel-electric battery power generation and propulsion system, which has the ability to become fully electric in the future according to Collins. He said the ferries will use ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel and are designed for low noise and low vibration.

“This is an all-new class designed just for British Columbia with every feature that we can think of to put in there to make it a light-footprint vessel,” Collins said.

B.C. Ferries wants to electrify its entire fleet sooner rather than later, Collin said, adding that the infrastructure isn’t in place yet and the technology isn’t advanced enough for it to make economical sense.

“We are still probably 25 years away from fully electrifying ships,” he said.

The company is currently converting Spirit-class ferries to LNG and the newer Salish-class ferries are also LNG-powered. Collins said one of the reasons for switching to LNG is because the company couldn’t wait around for the infrastructure or technology to catch up.

“We have got to do something in the meantime to get rid of the diesel and LNG right now is the best choice to get rid of diesel right now in the medium term,” he said. “It’s local, it costs less and it is way cleaner, but it is not as clean as electricity. So, we are focused on going to electricity as soon as the shore infrastructure is there.”

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Collins said the long-term goal of B.C. Ferries is to have a “standardized” all-electric fleet that will be more efficient and reduce operating costs.

“We have 18 classes of ships on a fleet of 37 ships. That is a very heterogeneous fleet and we have got to move away from that,” he said. “WestJet doesn’t have 19 different airplanes, do they? They’ve got the 737 and the Q400s and a few other things and they do that because it is efficient. You can’t control the clean technologies if you got a whole mixed bag because then every ship has got different challenges.”

The other benefit of a standardized fleet is that the passenger experience will generally be the same regardless of the ship, added Collins.

“Our goal is that you’ll have to read the name on the ship to know what ship you’re on, that is how identical they will be. “Nobody knows what plane you get on, you just know its another 737,” he said.

Collins said in addition to more fuel-efficient vessels, B.C. Ferries is planning to move to an all-electric vehicle fleet and expects its suppliers to be onboard with its energy-reduction targets.

“If you’re going to work for B.C. Ferries as a supplier today you need to be prepared to contribute to a 25-per cent energy reduction or we probably don’t have very much to discuss,” he said.

RELATED: B.C. Ferries to reveal Nanaimo-Gabriola terminal plans

Speaking to the News Bulletin after his presentation, Collins said the increased service on the Nanaimo-Gabriola route will make a big difference in people’s lives, especially on Gabriola Island.

“What people will notice the most is the frequency,” he said. “There will still be peaks and people will still have to wait but when you know the next ferry is in 20 minutes rather than an hour away, people are much more comfortable with that.”

Collins said passengers will appreciate the new Island Class vessels, which will replace the MV Quinsam built in 1982.

“It’s a similar experience but modernized, cleaner and neater. We are going to have a bigger lounge and more comfortable seating. The lounge is on the main deck so elevators aren’t necessary on the ship, so this should be very very accessible,” he said. “The ship is going to be faster and it should be quieter because it is going to be operating electric a lot of the time.”







nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com 
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