On the road: Ferries and solar panels in the San Juans

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On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee traveled to San Juan County to highlight the urgent need to get more ferry boats on the water for Washington’s island communities. He met with Steve Nevey, the new assistant secretary for Washington’s ferry system, as well as several members of the ferry advisory committee to discuss the status of state investments. In recent months, interisland service has seen increased reliability thanks to a partnership with private companies to get relief crewmembers out to the San Juan islands faster.

There’s more to come. Washington’s Climate Commitment Act is funding two new electric ferry boats that will be in the water starting in 2028. The aim is to deliver a total of five new electric boats by 2030. The CCA is also helping fund electric charging infrastructure at 16 of the state’s ferry docks. The state’s first retrofitted hybrid electric boat is currently in the works and scheduled to start sailing this coming autumn.


In a conversation at Friday Harbor the governor and Nevey emphasized that it would take longer if the state scrapped the current plans and chose instead to build new diesel boats.  

“People think we can just pull the plans off the shelf for the last vessels,” said Nevey. “But a lot of the original manufacturers for the engine components have gone out of business so we’d have to start again with a complete new design.”

Simply put, it would take longer to build diesel boats – ships that would belch carcinogenic diesel smoke into the air while driving further adverse health and climate effects. Washington’s iconic green and white ferry fleet is moving forward – phasing out outdated twentieth century fossil fuel technology in favor of sustainable technology that is tried, tested and proven to work.  

The governor also toured the San Juan County fairgrounds where Brandon Andrews, the parks and fair director touted a set of solar panels that sustainably power the fairground buildings, including a historic 100-year-old log cabin. During the tour, the governor spoke with executives from OPALCO, the co-op utility building a community solar array near the fairgrounds to bolster the islands’ energy resiliency.

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It was an electric visit to San Juan Island for the Governor (San Juan Islander)