Plug-in power big in the Pacific Northwest

The shore-power plug-in at Seattle’s Terminal 5 is the first of several the port plans to install over the coming months at its other cargo terminals.
The shore-power plug-in at Seattle’s Terminal 5 is the first of several the port plans to install over the coming months at its other cargo terminals.

A growing number of seaports on the U.S. West Coast are in the process of adopting plug-in shore power as a sustainable alternative to having ships continue to run their diesel engines while at berth.

In California, the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland have active shoreside power capability, while, earlier this year, the Port of San Diego unveiled a new demonstrated ability to simultaneously provide shore power to two cruise ships.

The Port of San Diego invested $4.6 million to complete the project and worked with Cochrane Marine, LLC to purchase equipment, manage construction, test and commission the installation. 

To the north, last April, the 8,800 TEU MSC Brunella connected to shore power at Seattle’s Terminal 5 marking the first time that the Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA) offered vessels electrical plug-in capabilities at one of its international container terminals.

Since then, at least four other vessels have plugged-in at the terminal, with plans to install similar connections at the other container, breakbulk, auto and other terminals at the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, providing the connectivity that brings the ports closer to their air pollution reduction goals and boost the gateway’s competitiveness in the market.

“T5 is just the tip of the iceberg,” said NWSA Environmental Director Jason Jordan, adding that the Alliance expects to see 700 tons of greenhouse gas reductions and other emissions from that one berth alone.

The development of shore power is a significant part of the Northwest Ports Clean Air Strategy, which was adopted in 2008 as an international blueprint to lower emissions from port operations. 

The strategy – a collaboration between the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Vancouver, British Columbia – has since been updated, most recently in 2020 with a five-year implementation plan that featured the installation of shore power at all its international container terminals by 2030.

Currently, shore power is being installed at Husky Terminal in the Tacoma Harbor, with plans for vessels to begin connecting to the power source there in early 2024. 

Meanwhile, the Alliance is wrapping up on design work for a shore power project at Terminal 18 in Seattle, with hopes that construction could start in late 2024. The NWSA is also planning to begin design work next year on installing shore power at its 142-acre Washington United Terminals (WUT) container facility.  

“That takes care of four of our biggest international facilities, and then we’ve got a couple other ones that will follow in 2025, but we’re well underway,” said Jordan. The Alliance, he added, is on track to have all its international container terminals be shore power capable by 2023. “We think we’re going to meet that goal.” 

In the Pacific Northwest, the Alliance has been working with the public and private sector to help fund and advance shore power efforts. For example, the Washington State Legislature contributed $4.4 million toward the T5 shore power project. 

Utility organizations are also playing a key role in the Alliance’s present and future shore power projects.

“As we look at alternatives to burning diesel, the local utilities are going to be absolutely key,” Jordan said. “And what’s really exciting is not only are they responsible for providing power, which we all recognize, whether it’s battery or our direct power, that’s going to be a huge component for us meeting our goals of getting to zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.” 

City Light, Seattle’s municipal utility agency, collaborated on the shore project at Terminal 5 and projects like it in the gateway, including efforts to provide shore power for cruise ships at Pier 66, a project that recently finished its design phase. 

The not-for-profit utility also contributed to the Seattle Waterfront Clean Energy Strategy, which will develop an overall strategy through 2050 to replace emission-based technologies along the Seattle Waterfront.  

As more cargo ships adopt shore power capabilities, meeting that energy demand will be vital.

Through the Seattle Waterfront Clean Energy Strategy and other efforts, stakeholders are working on how to address that energy demand, including a completed forecast of all major waterfront electric loads, consisting of shore power, locations and the amounts and timing of new loads, according to City Light.  

“With that milestone, the utility has identified which sites need additional solutions to be ready for future loads,” the agency said, adding that the solutions may be traditional (more or larger wires), or non-traditional (energy efficiency, energy storage, clean distributed generation, or load management).

“Working collaboratively with the port and NWSA on this is tremendously valuable,” said City Light. “We’re able to select the most appropriate path forward for each terminal, informed of each other’s key considerations with the benefit of collective knowledge and wisdom of all the partners.”

Beneficial cargo owners and others in the supply chain now prioritize sustainability, said Jordan. “Before, whenever there was a dip in the economy, it felt like environmental initiatives kind of had to slow down a little bit or even take a backseat while the economy adjusted or went into transition; now, that’s not the case at all.”  

“One of the first things international companies ask us about is our environmental initiatives, our carbon footprint, what we’re doing for water quality, how we’re working closely with our stakeholders,” he said.

“It’s really exciting and it’s fun to see the industry really come a long way in that regard. We’ve got a board in Seattle and Tacoma that are fully invested in being outstanding environmental stewards and recognize that that is part of our license to operate.”