Plugging in for cleaner air

$2 million in grants to help expand NWSA's shore power capabilities

Even when they’re tied up at the dock, container ships consume a lot of energy. In fact, the diesel engines they use to generate electricity at berth were the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on Northwest Seaport Alliance terminals during a 2016 emissions inventory.

In November 2019, NWSA Managing Members set in motion a plan to substantially reduce that pollution, voting to approve acceptance of a $1 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will help pay for shore power at Husky Terminal as part of a broader effort to connect more docked vessels to the grid. The alliance also accepted another $1 million from the TransAlta Centralia Coal Transition Grant Fund this month.

“More and more frequently, we’re beginning to see customers that are beginning to take more interest in environmental issues,” said Tom Bellerud, NWSA business development director.

He added that the national sales manager of the largest customer at Husky said more beneficial cargo owners are asking steamship lines about their sustainability programs and carbon footprint reduction efforts.

Both are a high priority for the NWSA. The alliance set aggressive greenhouse gas goals aligned with the Paris climate agreement in 2017 and aimed to cut emissions 80% by 2050. To that end, shore power equipment funded by a guarantee from the state of Washington is part of the redevelopment underway at Seattle’s Terminal 5.

Shore power

The recent wharf realignment project at Husky included laying conduit and reserving ground space for shore power equipment, and these grants will help fund construction of the remaining electrical infrastructure by late-2022. Because hydroelectric dams provide most of Puget Sound’s electricity, greenhouse emissions from the power used by connected container ships will be near zero.

About half of the ships calling at Husky are equipped to use shore power, and the NWSA estimated that plugging them in could keep 3,163 tons of carbon dioxide and 1.1 tons of fine particulate matter out of the air each year. More of the fleet is expected to be shore power capable in the future following earlier emissions mandates at California ports and the growing use of electrification in China.

TOTE Maritime has used shore power in Tacoma for its Alaska-bound ships since 2010. Cruise vessels to Alaska already can plug in at the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal and for the Port of Seattle, commissioners recently approved permitting and design funding to bring shore power to Pier 66 for cruise ships.

For the alliance and the Port of Seattle, long-term plans call for shore power upgrades across all major international container and cruise terminals as funding becomes available.

Environmental Project Manager Graham VanderSchelden said the NWSA also plans to apply for a share of up to $50.4 million that could be allocated to marine vessel emission reduction projects in Washington from the federal Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement.

Facilitating the capital investment for shore power equipment falls to the NWSA as the landlord port. So, in addition to funding from the alliance, grants will be essential to expanding shore power in the future, VanderSchelden said. “We’re always on the lookout for new opportunities and partnerships.”

As funding becomes available, the NWSA plans to add shore power to Terminal 18, Washington United Terminals and Pierce County Terminal over the next decade at a total cost of $38.6million. That initiative will be a part of broader efforts to increase electrification across the NWSA facilities.

shore powerThe Port of Seattle is working with Seattle City Light to develop the new Seattle Waterfront Clean Energy Strategic Plan. In Tacoma, the NWSA will kick off a similar effort — the NWSA South Harbor Electrification Roadmap — in 2020.

At the same time, the alliance is working with local utilities to ensure the cost of electricity makes shore power an attractive prospect for shipping lines, too. Using diesel to power docked ships can be more or less expensive than plugging in, depending on fuel prices, labor costs and electric rates.

The NWSA has worked closely with Tacoma Power since 2018 to change the way electricity is billed for shore power and make rates more competitive for shippers in the South Harbor. Preliminary rate discussions also have begun with Seattle City Light to pursue the NWSA’s dual goals of providing competitive port facilities and cleaner air for its neighbors across Puget Sound.