News & Classical Music from Northern Michigan
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Mackinac Island ferry is going fully electric

The Mackinac Island passenger ferry "Chippewa" will be converted from diesel to electric propulsion. Photo courtesy of Star Line/Mackinac Island Ferry Co.
The Mackinac Island passenger ferry "Chippewa" will be converted from diesel to electric propulsion. Photo courtesy of Star Line/Mackinac Island Ferry Co.

A ferry to Mackinac island is getting a makeover – and one that could help the state of Michigan reach its climate goals.

The diesel-powered ship is part of Star Line’s fleet in St. Ignace, and state funds will be used to overhaul the vessel and make it battery powered.

Jerry Fetty is CEO of the Star Line ferry service to Mackinac Island. He said this vessel is a perfect candidate for electrification as it needs some work done anyways.

“If we’re going to upgrade it now, we might as well take it into the future, essentially, and apply for the grant,” Fetty said. “And we’re very proud to have received it and we will be the first passenger ferry – in Michigan anyway – to be 100-percent electric.”

The overhaul should take two to three years, and is funded in part by the state’s Fuel Transformation Program.

Jeff Johnston is a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, which awarded the grant.

“There’s a lot of recent focus on marine electrification, and obviously this is a big step in that direction,” Johnston said. “This is part of a larger effort in the Straits area and northern Michigan in general to focus on converting to electric power for large vessels.”

A grant from the same program will also fund on-shore electricity at a dock near Sault Ste. Marie, where vessels docked overnight will be able to use power without running their diesel engines.

In a statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the electric ferry to Mackinac Island will “ensure that this Pure Michigan journey is more cost-effective and sustainable for decades to come.”

Whitmer also said there are steps towards the state’s goal for carbon-neutrality by 2050.

Patrick Shea was a natural resources reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.