Pushing for Cruise Ships in Seattle to Utilize Shore Power While Docked

Reducing a cruise ship’s greenhouse gas emissions is a formidable task, one of the most difficult challenges in the push toward a decarbonized economy. Acknowledging this, the Port of Seattle has invested a significant sum to set up cables, conduit, and other required infrastructure at its piers. The purpose of this infrastructure is to allow these enormous ships to operate on electricity from the shore, rather than their gas-and-particulate-emitting engines.

As the 2024 cruise season is set to begin this Saturday, there are calls for the port to mandate that cruisers docked on Seattle’s waterfront must use this option. However, not all ships have committed to this so far.

The largest cruise lines globally have committed substantial climate goals, aligning themselves with the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization. They are pushing for carbon neutrality by 2050. Achieving this goal will undoubtedly be a significant challenge. Retrofitting cruise ships to operate on hybrid or electric power is currently unfeasible, as the battery would surpass the ship’s size, according to Robert Morgenstern, the Senior Vice President for Holland America and Princess Cruises’ Alaska operations. Despite this, the industry is adamant about finding a green power source, although it may still be several years before it is ready for implementation.

“The fuels of the future will take time, but shore power is here now,” Morgenstern stated.

The Port of Seattle has gained the capability to supply power at both Pier 91 and Pier 66, having spent $44 million on the latter to achieve this.

Despite this, cruise ships at Seattle piers only used this on about a third of occasions in 2023. This figure needs to dramatically increase. The port’s commissioners ought to implement a straightforward rule: if a cruise ship does not plug in, it cannot dock here.

Since 2005, Holland America and Princess Cruises have made use of shoreside power in Seattle. Conversely, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity have not.

It’s worth mentioning that it is a more expensive option for these companies to plug in than to operate their engines whilst in port, as pointed out by Morgenstern. However, the priority here is a commitment to preserving the environment and the well-being of the local residents.

Norwegian, meanwhile, has prime parking at Pier 66, nestled between Seattle’s Great Wheel to the south and the Olympic Sculpture Park to the north. The Norwegian Bliss, their huge vessel, is set to embark on its inaugural journey to Alaska this weekend.

During the ship’s absence, the port utilised January to lay a mile-long cable along the seafloor of Elliott Bay — considered by port personnel as the best method to provide power to the pier. This cable will bridge a substation at Terminal 46 south of Colman Dock and the Bliss’ Pier 66, which has been leased by Norwegian until 2030. By July, a large transformer, enabling shore power for the first time, is expected to be installed by the port.

Negotiations regarding Norwegian’s contribution to the project are ongoing between the port and the company; a move gratefully acknowledged given the ship’s history of releasing carbon and sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide and other detrimental particulate matter on Seattle’s waterfront.

Upon the flow of electricity in July, Norwegian is expected to connect the Bliss to shore power at the earliest opportunity, realising the commitment made by David Herrera, president of Norwegian Cruise Line, about his company’s intent to decarbonise. He dispelled notions of paying lip-service at a recent Seattle conference of the Cruise Lines International Association, a trade group, saying, “I want my children to enjoy what I enjoy” in the era of climate change.

A shore-powered Bliss is just the beginning. According to the company’s calculations, they can prevent the burning of 18 metric tons of conventional marine fuel annually, which would result in a reduction of 57 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions for each season.

The Port of Seattle has set an ambitious target to achieve 100% electricity connection rates for ships by the year 2030. Their supervisors must transmit a strong message by insisting that all ships are connected to shore power with immediate effect, or at least have a documented plan for conversion to enable them to do so.

The expressed views in the comments section are solely those of the reader and do not represent the viewpoint of The Seattle Times.

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