In thinking about possible futures for the Alaska Marine Highway System, we now can consider vessels propelled by something other than diesel engines. 
Well, maybe. We don’t really know whether electric, low emission or alternative fuel vessels are feasible on AMHS routes and Alaska conditions.
But instead of playing the maybe-it’s-feasible-maybe-it’s-not game for the next decade or more, why not go ahead and figure it out?
We’re pleased to see an effort to accomplish that is underway.
The effort is called the Low Emission Ferry Research Project, and it’s being conducted by a partnership of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Southeast Conference — with funding from a U.S. Department of Transportation program that’s intended to provide grants for buying electric or low-emissions ferries or electrify existing ferries, according to a DOT announcement.
That sounds promising, despite our long and growing fatigue with AMHS/DOT studies, advisory boards, reshaping committees and working groups.
In the agency’ announcement, DOT Commissioner Ryan Anderson says that revitalizing AMHS is “so important” to the agency.
“Pushing forward to see if alternative fuels, low emissions, or electric ferries, could make our vessels more efficient, could potentially allow us to add service to our coastal communities,” he said.
We’re doubly appreciative that Southeast Conference is on board. This is the group that originally and successfully pushed for the formation of AMHS back in the late 1950s and early 60s.
“The success of AMHS is still our passion and priority, and we are excited to continue our partnership with the State to pursue implementation of both the Reshaping Committee recommendations and the opportunities that have emerged in the new federal funding programs,” Southeast Conference Executive Director Robert Venables said in the  announcement. “This pilot program is well-timed, given Alaska’s need to plan for new vessels to replace the Alaska Marine Highway’s aging fleet.”
The project is anticipated to provide a detailed examination of the costs, benefits, and overall financial and technical feasibility of low-emission ferry operations within the AMHS service area, according to the announcement.
The announcement doesn’t give a dollar figure or time frame for the project, which we would encourage to be completed in a time-efficient and cost-effective manner — and to provide reliable enough conclusions to have made the whole exercise worthwhile.