ST IGNACE, Mich. (WJMN) – A Mackinac Island passenger ferry will be converted from diesel to electric power for the first time ever, thanks to a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

The $3.6 million grant is being awarded to Mackinac Island Ferry Company (MIFC), previously known as Star Line, to replace two 1988 diesel engines with two new electric propulsion motors on their ferry known as the Chippewa. The funds are being awarded through EGLE’s Fuel Transformation Program (FTP) Part 2.

The project to replace the engines will begin immediately, and will constitute part of a a multiyear overhaul to redesign and modernize the Chippewa’s hull and appearance. A release from EGLE says the redesign will reduce the ferry’s greenhouse gas emissions by 14,152 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents and 887 metric tons of nitrogen oxides over the boat’s lifetime.

“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,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “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.”

The EGLE grant will fund half the cost of the total project, which includes installing 1.5 megawatts in shore power infrastructure at the Mackinaw City ferry dock. Electric power upgrades are also planned for the ports of St. Ignace and Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island ferries help service the roughly 500 year-round island residents and hundreds of thousands of yearly visitors as the primary mode of transportation to the island. The 84-foot Chippewa is expected to carry 250-300 passengers per trip following its redesign.

“This project is a first critical step in the strategy to upgrade and modernize marine transportation in the Straits of Mackinac,” said Director Chris Byrnes of the Mackinac Economic Alliance (MEA). “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.”

MIFC eventually intends to upgrade the propulsion systems on its other seven steel vessels that operate passenger or freight service to Mackinac Island. The company will evaluate its seven high-speed aluminum passenger vessels for upgrades to electric or hybrid electric propulsion following the conversion of the Chippewa.

EGLE says the conversion of the Chippewa is a pilot project for electrification of 28 total Mackinac Island ferries. It marks the launch of the MEA’s Mackinac Marine Mobility Strategic Plan to create full-time, year-round marine and shipbuilding jobs in the straits region. Shipbuilding company lncat Crowther is also partnering in the project.

The project is the first initiative from the Mackinac Island Transportation Master Plan, conducted by the Michigan Department of Transportation as the key piece of a larger initiative to modernize the ferry fleet and freight ships serving the region. The plan includes transition from fossil fuels, supported by creating local shipbuilding and servicing jobs and a marine industry training hub. EGLE says the long-term goal is to transition all 138 Upper Great Lakes ships in the 50- to 200-ton range to electric or hybrid-electric power.