Calls to add an electric ferry to the Steamship Authority fleet intensified this past week.
Three regional bodies — the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Dukes County Commissioners, and the Vineyard Sustainable Energy Committee — all signed similar letters to the Steamship asking the ferry line to at least plan to make the switch to electric.
The letters, all signed and submitted last week, make two specific requests: that as two newly purchased freight vessels undergo renovations, the scope of work include a configuration of hybrid-electric for the vessel’s future.
The letters also push the Steamship to include a commitment to pursue electrifying its fleet as part of its strategic plan. The transportation agency is working with a consultant to make a plan, which includes gathering public feedback and gathering board members for workshops.
The letters are addressed to Steamship General Manager Bob Davis as well as the Steamship Authority (SSA) board.
“We are confident that the SSA recognizes and understands the Island’s climate action goals
formalized by all six towns in 2022, the requirements of the Massachusetts Global Warming
Solutions Act, and the follow-on climate bill signed by Gov. Baker in 2021,” the letters all state. “We trust that the SSA will be a strong partner in the efforts the Island community is making to achieve our vision of a resilient, 100 percent renewable Martha’s Vineyard.”
The state has a goal to achieve net zero gas emissions by 2050, while Martha’s Vineyard towns have pledged to reduce fossil fuel use by 100 percent by 2040.
All three letters also mentioned a summit hosted earlier this year by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to explore ferry electrification, called Ferries Now.
“Based on the attendance in person and virtually, the Vineyard community is clearly very interested in the electrification opportunities that ferry operators both in the U.S. and Europe are currently implementing,” the letters state. “As you are likely aware, since the Steamship Authority is the source of almost 10 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, this meeting directly addressed a key element of the Island’s climate action goals.”
A Steamship spokesperson said that they have received the letters, but have not responded yet. In the past, officials have said that it will be difficult for the ferry line to access funding for the conversion to electric; there are also concerns about electrical infrastructure handling the charging of batteries.
In addition to the three letters, Kate Warner, energy planner with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, says that a petition with more than 350 signatures was signed at Earth Day and Climate Day. The petition asks, among other things, that when the Steamship purchases a new vessel, it is electric.