State-of-the Art Port Electrification Reduces Harmful Emissions

SAFE seeks commitment from Crowley for shore-to-ship power

By Carol Hautau

As Crowley Maritime presents its design plans for the Salem wind port, SAFE has been looking to ensure that construction and ongoing operations do not increase air pollution in our local neighborhoods. Already, Essex County has high rates of asthma that should not be exacerbated by diesel fumes from construction equipment and vessels that will be transporting wind turbines to their locations at sea. 

One technology we’ve focused on is called “cold ironing” or “shoreside power.” This state-of-the-art technology allows vessels to plug in to port electricity and shut down the ship and auxiliary engines. This prevents toxic emissions from enveloping the port area. Sadly, climate friendly practices like this are often denied based on the upfront cost, ignoring long-term damages. Yet, I recently learned a surprising fact. For decades, the U.S. Navy — not Woods Hole or the Sierra Club! — has required every one of its ships to turn off all engines when in port and use Alternative Maritime Power (AMP) — i.e., cold ironing. 

For decades, the U.S. Navy has required every one of its ships to turn off all engines when in port and use Alternative Maritime Power (AMP), also known as “cold ironing” or “shoreside power.”

So why isn’t this sensible practice employed in all ports? While the Navy has control of all its vessels and ports, commercial ports that receive ships of every type and nationality have no such control. There is almost no standardization of ship engines, voltage and frequency requirements, nor types of electrical connections onboard. This lack of uniformity and the enormous cost of renovating a port have delayed the use of this innovation.

The good news is that the U.S. is slowly waking up to this climate-saving technology. Six major ports in California have made the necessary renovations thanks to a state law passed in 2004, first implemented in 2007 and updated several times since. Over almost 20 years, California’s ports have installed AMP connections for container, cruise, tanker and refrigerated ships and, in turn, those incoming ocean-going vessels have converted to a universal connection system.

The good news is that the U.S. is slowly waking up to this climate-saving technology.

Because of these shoreside power-ready ports in California, and a few more in Washington and Alaska, many ships serving these Pacific ports are built to AMP specifications. EU regulations due to start in 2025 will increase the number of connectable ships in the Atlantic. On our East Coast, Brooklyn, NY, has installed shore power systems for cruise ships and the ports of Philadelphia, Miami and Galveston have begun installation as well. 

To their credit, Crowley is now talking about including several berths with shoreside power at the new Salem facility. It would be a lost opportunity to build the Salem Offshore Wind Terminal without these systems. A low-voltage system suitable for ferries, tugs, and offshore support vessels might be sufficient. An EPA study released in 2022 indicates that a port with a high percentage of frequently returning vessels like the wind power installation and maintenance vessels (and perhaps the Salem ferries?) can most effectively use AMP systems to reduce pollution.

One word of caution: the dockside power vaults are connected to the local power grid. In the September 2022 heatwave, ships were not allowed to connect to shoreside power in the port of Los Angeles as the whole metropolitan area was threatened with brownouts and power outages. Power grids must build additional capacity and flexibility to support our efforts to stave off the climate crisis. We need flexibility to handle the intermittent nature of renewables, and we must be ready to handle the charging of electric cars, the electrification of our housing stock, and shore power-capable ports. ISO New England — the independent system operator that manages our electric grid — needs to start preparing now. State regulations modeled on those in California would help to accelerate the process.

Carol Hautau is a member of the SAFE board of directors.