Why ports use shore power

The Carnival Fantasy. (Leroy Burnell/File)

Despite what Charlestonians are being told, shore power is still going strong, and ports around the country continue to install it in an effort to reduce emissions.

The S.C. State Ports Authority has refused to install shore power at the proposed new passenger terminal. Jim Newsome, CEO of the SPA, contends that the technology is a last-generation solution.

But in a recent article in Maritime Executive magazine, officials in Seattle, Los Angeles, the European Union and Hamburg, Germany, all extolled the value of shore power for reducing emissions from ships idling at dock.

Mr. Newsome said that ultra-low sulfur fuel and scrubbers take care of emissions, making it unnecessary to spend about $20 million to include shore power in a new terminal.

Doctors disagree. Both the Charleston and the statewide medical societies have called for the SPA to add shore power if it builds a new passenger terminal.

Environmentalists also disagree with Mr. Newsome, saying the best solution for visiting cruise ships would be shore power and scrubbers.

Maritime Executive reporter Wendy Laursen noted that the ports of Seattle, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Juneau are among those that use shore power. Brooklyn’s port uses shore power, as do the ports of Halifax and Vancouver in Canada.

The Port of Halifax last month commissioned its new shore power equipment. And Kai Tak Hong Kong terminal is considering investing in shore power at a new cruise facility.

So how do they like it?

A spokesman for the Seattle port said, “Nothing compares to the benefits of zero emissions by connecting the vessel to shore power and shutting down the vessel’s engines while the ship is at the dock.”

Exhaust stack scrubbers, he said, reduce emissions when the ship’s engines are running.

In Los Angeles, the port director of environmental management said air quality conditions in Southern California are among the worst in the country, explaining: “Overall emissions, as well as potential health risk, are significantly reduced when using electricity to power ships at berth rather than having the ships run on low sulfur fuel.”

The United Kingdom is debating the value of shore power with some noting that shore power reduces noise and vibration as well as air emissions, and others contending that the costs could be too high for cruise ships.

Hamburg makes use of electric power but in an innovative way. Barges fueled by liquid natural gas will act as floating power plants to serve cruise ships.

And the port of Antwerp, Belgium, offers shore power at its Independent Maritime Terminal. Ships are offered financial incentives to use the power.

The article reports that outdoor air testing at Union Pier in Charleston has been conducted since February and indicates emissions are within federal guidelines. Mr. Newsome is cited as saying that there is no significant difference between cruise ship days and non-cruise ship days, so shore power isn’t needed.

That raises the question, then, as to why ports across the U.S. and beyond continue to add shore power.

Here’s an answer: Environmentalists are right when they point out that having no emissions by using shore power is better than having some emissions by not using it.

And if the opportunity is present to eliminate emissions through shore power, the port would be wise to take it.