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Mackinac Island ferry switching to electric power

Mackinac Island Ferry Company
The Mackinac Island Ferry Company will convert the Chippewa from a diesel motor to an electric propulsion motor. (Photo courtesy of Star Line/Mackinac Island Ferry Co.)
  • A $3.06 million grant will be used to convert Mackinac ferry to electric power 
  • The ferry will also undergo remodeling and other modifications as the engines are being replaced 
  • The project will take approximately three years to complete, as part of a program to convert diesel engines to zero emissions

The movement to expand electric transportation doesn’t just include cars. 

A Mackinac Island ferry will go from diesel fuel to electric power with the help of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).


A $3.06 million grant from EGLE will fund the project. The award is part of the Fuel Transformation Program which will replace diesel vehicles, vessels, and equipment with new versions that have little to no emissions. 


The ferry will be converted to a zero-emission electric power engine within the next three years, according to EGLE. The Mackinac Island Ferry Co. will replace two 1988 diesel engines with new electric propulsion motors on the Chippewa ferry, one of the many boats that makes trips to and from the island.   

“We see great opportunity and great value for laying the groundwork for a cleaner, better, healthier, energy environment,” said Jeff Johnston, spokesperson for EGLE. “We want cleaner air, cleaner water and we want to avert the worst impacts of climate change.” 

The Mackinac Island Ferry Company has 15 vessels in their fleet, which is one of the largest fleets in Michigan according to Jerry Fetty, CEO of the Company.

The grant will also cover the cost for installing 1.5 megawatts in shore power infrastructure at the Mackinaw City ferry dock. The project is expected to decrease greenhouse gas emissions by over 14,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide and 887 metric tons of nitrogen oxide, according to EGLE.  

It isn’t clear yet whether after the conversion, the Chippewa ferry, originally built in 1962, will still be able to carry up to 500 passengers, its current capacity. Fetty told Bridge the conversion may have little to no impact on the passenger capacity, but that he wouldn’t know until the project is completed. 

The Mackinac Island Ferry Company will also be redesigning and modernizing the ferry as it undergoes this transition. 

The grant covers half the cost of the project, including the installation of the shore power. The rest of the project will be funded by the Mackinac Island Ferry Company which is investing nearly $3 million dollars to the project. 

The grant from EGLE will match their investment with $3 million of what it spends. The company has already spent an additional $1 million on engineering and technology which the grant doesn’t cover. 

On the conversion to electric, Fetty said:

“We want to be considered and be a renewable energy company. Like many we have a long way to go but we started making steps in that direction and this is a big step.” 


Fetty said the change will not only cut down on the environmental harms caused by not burning fossil fuels but will also reduce the costs.  

“We purchase over half a million gallons of diesel fuel a year and we’re looking for ways to minimize that,” he said. 

The company chose to electrify the Chippewa ferry because it is considered a classic ferry, one of two in their fleet. Classic vessels travel at a much slower speed but have a larger capacity for electric batteries. 

There are other vessels on their fleet that are due for some updates. But those vessels, which have hydrojet batteries that move faster than the classic ferries, won’t be able to make enough trips at a high speed with an electric motor based on the current technology, Fetty told Bridge. 

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