At a meeting of the Steamship Authority board in the Tisbury Emergency Services Building Wednesday, Aquinnah resident Noli Taylor and high school climate activist Emily Gazzaniga pressed SSA brass to convert the ferry fleet to electric propulsion systems.
Taylor, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Climate Change Task Force and the Island Climate Action Network, began by thanking SSA spokesman Sean Driscoll, Vineyard board member Marc Hanover, and treasurer and comptroller Mark Rozum for speaking with those organizations in the past regarding SSA efforts to electrify its bus fleet and for their consideration of climate change in the design for the new Woods Hole terminal.
Gazzaniga said she’s concluded the SSA burns approximately 3 million gallons of fuel a year, and should consider exploring alternative sources. “What is the SSA doing to move toward electrifying the ferry fleet to reduce carbon emissions?” she asked.
“Really nothing at this point,” board chairman Robert Jones said, but added it was a “hot topic” in the industry. He said he has read up on the hybridization of vessels, and described it as “extremely costly,” but conceded it’s “where the industry is heading.” He said when the time comes for a new ferry, it is something that will be looked at. “Your comments are very timely,” he said to Gazzaniga.
Gazzaniga asked if there was any way Islanders could spur the SSA to act more on the issue.
“As an activist,” Jones said, “keep doing what you’re doing.”
Taylor suggested the board consider a feasibility study for conversion of the SSA diesel vessels to hybrids, and the shoreside infrastructure needed to support such vessels. She also suggested a feasibility study for the acquisition of all-new electric propulsion vessels.
Jones said it would be “unbelievably expensive” to convert the present SSA vessels.
Mark Amundsen, SSA director of marine operations, noted batteries of ferry scale are in the “elementary” stages of development, and more work is needed.
“It’s on the horizon,” he said. “Everyone can see by the environmental laws that things are changing,” so he hoped that electric options will be considered for the next SSA vessel constructed. He agreed with Jones that conversion of an existing SSA vessel was cost-prohibitive.
“Europe is farther along in these efforts than the U.S. is,” SSA general manager Robert Davis said. Among the hurdles for American fleets is arriving at a way to store the lithium batteries these vessel need in a way that satisfies the U.S. Coast Guard, Davis said.
The next SSA vessel is on the drawing board, an electric ferry will be “something we’ll have to consider,” Davis said.