The Legislature has spoken: Any cruise terminal built or designed in Charleston County during the 2014-2015 fiscal year must be capable of providing electrical shore power to the ships it serves.
The budget proviso, recommended by Reps. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, and Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, will be effective beginning July 1.
The action appears to settle, at least for now, an issue that has caused heated contention between the S.C. State Ports Authority and a coalition of environmentalists, preservationists, physicians and neighbors of the port in Charleston who want to minimize emissions produced when cruise ships idle at dock.
The SPA has contended that shore power is too expensive and has refused to commit to providing it for the proposed cruise terminal. Other options are available, port officials insist.
But scientific research shows that when cruise ships plug into an electric power source and turn off their diesel engines, emissions all but disappear. That's good news for people living or working nearby, since those emissions are associated with heart and lung disease.
Both the Charleston County Medical Society and the S.C. Medical Association approved resolutions calling for shore power for that reason.
The proviso does not require cruise ships to plug into the power source, but that's clearly the logical conclusion.
The S.C. House of Representatives initially recommended allocating $5 million for the SPA to use for shore power. During the budget-making process, funding was eliminated. Presumably the Legislature believes that the SPA is financially able to do the job on its own.
In any event, the mandate is clear: "The State Ports Authority shall include shore electrical power capability in the design and construction of any new terminal or facility servicing passenger cruise ships in Charleston County."
In other ports where shore power has been installed, project costs have been shared by port authorities, local governments, cruise lines and power companies.
The mandate will also have to be considered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when the SPA reapplies for permission to move forward with building a new terminal. The first permit was invalidated by a judge who said the SPA's analysis of the project's impact was insufficient.
Mr. Stavrinakis said he and Mr. Merrill tried to design a proviso that would be considered a win-win for all involved. With shore power, the SPA should gain advantages with customers who expect facilities to be up-to-date. And the community should enjoy the benefits of fewer emissions.
Mr. Stavrinakis said he is committed to keeping the proviso in the 2015-2016 budget, if needed.
Shoreside power has been gaining advocates, even as the SPA has resisted the proposal. This proviso indicates that the General Assembly also recognizes this is an idea whose time has come.