NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — With the sun streaming into the Niagara Gorge, visitors lined up in socially distanced groups waiting to shuffle onto the Maid of the Mist, the boats that have ferried tourists to the base of Niagara Falls for the past 174 years.
Whether they knew it or not, these passengers were experiencing a new era of maritime transportation: boats powered by electricity.
Earlier this month, the Maid of the Mist launched two electric catamarans into the gorge, the first of their kind in North America. The hulking double-deckers run on dual banks of lithium-ion batteries. All the power used to charge the batteries is supplied by the nearby Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, one of the most productive hydroelectric facilities in the United States, making the boats a zero-emission operation.
Maid of the Mist is at the forefront of what observers say is an emerging trend in maritime operations. On the other side of the country, Washington is in the process of electrifying its ferry fleet — the largest in the United States — with the goal of cutting diesel fuel consumption in half by 2040.
Michelle Padgett was among the first to tour the Niagara Gorge in one of the sleek new electric boats. She had driven from Kentucky with her three children to take in the northeastern foliage, stopping in Connecticut before crossing New York to see the famous falls. Being from Kentucky, where so much natural beauty has been sacrificed to coal production, she said she was delighted by the company’s all-electric boats.
“We need to start using resources we have available and quit just destroying our earth,” Padgett said.
For Maid of the Mist President Chris Glynn, the decision to electrify the fleet was easy. When the company began looking into replacing its two aging diesel vessels in 2018, a consultant proposed electric boats. He and others at the company jumped at the opportunity, he said.
“As soon as we heard that, we knew that was something we were most interested in doing and wanted to pursue it,” Glynn said, adding that it was important to him to protect the waters of the Niagara River and be part of a larger movement to move into a green future. “It’s a great sustainability statement. Many people appreciate that.” America’s long-standing conflict between industry and nature is threaded through the history of Niagara Falls.
In the state park, visitors experience the raw energy of the river and the 167-foot waterfalls, the noisy rush of the rapids a constant reminder. That natural power was an enormous draw for industrialists, who used the raging waters to drive machinery — first mills and then turbines.
The city of Niagara Falls played a prominent role in the war of the currents, the famous