Washington State Ferries is auctioning nine brand new, multi-million-dollar generators on an EBay-like website, five years after State Ferries’ port engineers began to realize that the equipment they’d ordered could never work on ferry system boats.
The generators were ordered in 2006 for installation on the ferries Kaleetan and Yakima, but they have never been used. The generators are too powerful to safely work with existing connector cables on the boats.
State Ferries placed the $4.2 million order with Texas-based manufacturer TECO-Westinghouse without realizing that if installed, the equipment could cause an electrical explosion called an “arc flash." Since 2006, WSF has paid a total of $5.5 million to TECO-Westinghouse for manufacturing and storing the equipment. WSF also paid consultants to study whether the generators could be adapted to work on WSF boats. No fix was ever found.
All nine generators are listed on the auction website publicsurplus.com with a minimum bid set at $3 million. The auction went live on October 9 and is scheduled to end on October 24.
Washington State Ferries officials said the agency is attempting to sell the generators now because TECO-Westinghouse planned to triple the cost of storing the five generators that remain at the company's facility.
“We were recently informed by TECO-Westinghouse that our storage costs would increase from about $1,600 per month to $5,000 per month, and they also need the storage space for other long-term use, so we had to prioritize sales efforts,” said Marta Coursey, Director of Communications for WSF.
TECO-Westinghouse reached out to potential buyers on behalf of WSF before the state moved forward with the online auction but did not find success.
“[T]here was no solid interest. WSF Port Engineers had informal conversations with some of our vendors to see if they were interested and there was no interest there either,” said Coursey.
State Ferries does not believe any other passenger vessel organization will bid on the generators because the technology has been replaced for that market.
“It’s possible that the generators will be purchased by mining or petroleum drilling companies where these DC motors would still be of use,” said Coursey.
In 2010 the KING 5 Investigators exposed that the state had purchased the unusable generators. At that time State Ferries was negotiating with TECO-Westinghouse on the final bill to be paid.