Plans underway for first-ever electric-powered Mackinac Island ferry

Posted at 9:54 AM, Mar 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-10 11:31:43-05

Plans are in the works to create the first-ever electric-powered passenger ferry to Mackinac Island, according to the state.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said Star Line, which is now known as the Mackinac Island Ferry Company, will replace two 1988 diesel engines with new electric propulsion motors on the Chippewa Ferry.

The company received about $3 million from the state to help in the conversion. According to the state, the project will begin immediately and take about 2-3 years to overhaul and redesign the ferry. In all, it's expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14,152 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 887 metric tons of nitrogen oxide.

“The ferry trip to Mackinac Island is Michigan at its best — a view of our two peninsulas and the Mighty Mac while gliding through our Great Lakes. Now, with a new grant from EGLE, one of the iconic island ferry fleets is switching to electric, ensuring that this Pure Michigan journey is more cost-effective and sustainable for decades to come,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “We are continuing to make investments to lead the future of mobility and electrification, so we can grow our economy, create good-paying jobs, and lower energy costs for families and businesses. Our mobility leadership must extend from electric cars and buses on the road to industrial power and watercraft, too.

“This project is a first critical step in the strategy to upgrade and modernize marine transportation in the Straits of Mackinac,” Mackinac Economic Alliance Director Chris Byrnes added in a statement. “Of course, Mackinac Island is famous for alternative modes of transportation, as cars are not allowed on the island. Everyone walks, rides bikes or horses and, of course, ferry boats, so the island is already a Michigan leader in alternative forms of transportation.”

According to the state, the ferries serve about 500 year-round people who live on Mackinac Island, but also shuttle about 750,000 people a year to-and-from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas to Mackinac Island.

During the peak months, the state said they make up to 125 round trips daily.

After converting the ferry to electric power, the company intends to upgrade the propulsion systems on several steel vessels and evaluate their vessels for upgrades to electric or hybrid propulsion.

In all, the state said the Chippewa is the pilot project for a plan to electrify 28 Mackinac Island ferries in all.

The state said it's also the first project on the Mackinac Island Transportation Master Plan which is conducted by the state's department of transportation. The goal is to modernize the ferry fleet and freight ships that serve the island.

According to the state, the effort looks to transition from fossil fuels and eventually transition all 138 Upper Great Lakes ships in the 50-200-ton range to electric or hybrid power.

The state is also working to build a new and environmentally-friendly passenger ferry from Charlevoix to Beaver Island on the Lake Michigan coast.