Les Leyne: LNG a big part of Ferries plan

Les Leyne mugshot genericIn the midst of a week of political arguments about liquefied natural gas and emissions, B.C. Ferries tabled a new long-range plan that touches on the same issues.

The corporation filed an encyclopedia-sized brief to its regulator that plans out its next four-year contract with the B.C. government starting in 2020 (bcferrycommission.ca).

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There’s an entire chapter on fuel management and how it has been managed over the current contract and what the forecast looks like. It hints at what every other sector of the B.C. economy is or will be dealing with in the years ahead.

A corporation that spends $100 million a year on diesel fuel has a lot to answer for when it comes to emissions. The report makes it clear that the answer is LNG, plus some electrification.

B.C. Ferries has been scrambling to cope with record traffic, by adding more sailings and using larger vessels on some routes. And the increased traffic prolongs loading, which means ferries often sail faster to keep on time.

All of that works against the priority of reducing fuel consumption to save money.

The corporation said it has realized fuel efficiencies, but there is an overall increase in fuel consumption. The traffic increase in 2017 meant burning four million more litres that year.

A price drop has saved some money, but the move to re-power ferries with LNG is the big factor being counted on to cut costs and emissions.

The report says LNG cuts carbon emissions by 25 per cent compared with diesel, and other emissions by far more.

There are four ships capable of using LNG now in the fleet: three smaller Salish-class ones and the Spirit of B.C., which returned to service in the summer of 2018 after conversion to dual-fuel. A fifth, the Spirit of Vancouver Island, is being converted for service next year.

“LNG-fuelled vessels substantially outperform diesel-fuelled vessels in reduced emissions and costs,” says the report.

Two smaller battery-hybrid vessels are also under construction. The next major vessel program, for which requests were issued Friday, could include very large energy storage systems, so that docking and departures would be done under battery power.

Installing batteries and converting to LNG adds millions in costs, but the report says there are big fuel savings. Diesel costs the corporation 97 cents a litre; the LNG equivalent is 49 cents.

By 2020, LNG could represent 22 per cent of consumption and the amount of diesel burned will drop to less than 100 million litres.

“The company envisages the replacement of 19 aged vessels over the next 14 years with newer, more fuel-efficient vessels,” says the report.

Depending on how much of a commitment is made to batteries and LNG, there’s the potential to displace nearly 50 per cent of the diesel use by the mid-2020s.

Even with the big replacement program, the corporation is running into capacity problems. Traffic is at record levels currently, but the growth rate is expected to drop. The corporation has limited ability to expand capacity, as all vessels are in service at peak times.

“As a result, there is limited capacity to meet growing demand during peak period, which will constrain traffic growth.”

Apart from fuel and emissions, the other big drive in the next five years will be rebuilding the fare system, with more emphasis on reservations. A new reservation system that started this year will be accompanied by a better website so that travellers will eventually get a choice of discounted pricing on less busy sailings if they use reservations.

Discounts now available will be broadened.

“B.C. Ferries is also continuing to explore the possibility of offering a frequent-traveller program that will provide additional benefits to customers who travel the most.”

Also in the “continuing to explore” category are the ideas of new passenger-only routes and joint ventures.

Hiking fares to pay for all the above isn’t an option, given the outcry in recent years. The NDP rolled back fares on some smaller routes and restored the midweek free rides for seniors that the B.C. Liberals partially curtailed. Those measures cost $98 million over two years.

It looks as if continued high traffic is being counted on to cover it.

lleyne@timescolonist.com

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