The ports of Seattle and Tacoma, already seeking ways to reduce their carbon emissions and smog, are well-qualified to compete for some of a proposed $2.25 billion in federal money to electrify U.S. ports, a senior official said Wednesday.
Polly Trottenberg, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, visited Terminal 5 in West Seattle to tout the benefits of changing from fossil fuels to electricity. That’s just one program in the $1 trillion, 2,702-page infrastructure plan the Senate passed this month. It is now in the U.S. House.
Besides curbing pollution on the waterfront, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act calls for a $7.5 billion investment in electric vehicle chargers, along with $5 billion for cleaner buses and $2.5 billion for ferries, a White House fact sheet says.
After promoting the infrastructure bill, she and Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., toured a hollow girder inside the West Seattle Bridge, which has been closed since March 2020 by runaway cracks. The city was awarded an $11.2 million federal infrastructure grant in June to help pay repair costs for a planned mid-2022 reopening.
Even without a new infrastructure bill, the Seattle port and operators already invested a half-billon dollars to modernize Terminal 5, along Duwamish Waterway near the high bridge. One berth will have shore power when T-5 reopens in early 2022, followed by a second berth in 2023, according to the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
Some of the world’s largest container ships can plug in to power their lights, circuits and refrigeration, instead of burning heavy bunker fuel, at the giant 185-acre dock.
“I know the Northwest Seaport Alliance — the ports of Seattle and Tacoma — are leaders in thinking through that commitment to zero-emission operations,” Trottenberg said. Later, she said the Puget Sound ports are innovative, and better prepared to use electrification grants than some other regions.
In addition, T-5 is equipped to move half its expected container cargo off the dock to the Midwest directly by rail, rather than trucks, said Ed DeNike, president of SSA Marine, the terminal operator. And the four new cranes are electrically powered, he said.
The planned federal electrification funds can also be used for short-haul trucking, known as drayage, in which cargo is moved several blocks from Terminals 18 and 30 to a giant Sodo rail yard, or from the Port of Tacoma to warehouses in the Green River Valley. Drivers in aging trucks commonly idle in one- to two-mile lineups, just to enter the port gates.
“This is one of the great challenges, because they’re individual operators, mostly immigrants, some of the least-paid people in the port district. They only get paid per container they move, so the congestion, sitting in line, hurts them as it hurts the community around us, and productivity at the terminal,” Seattle Port Commission President Fred Felleman said.
Cantwell said the federal government, port officials, and PACCAR truck company are working on a demonstration project in Seattle-Tacoma to reduce drayage pollution.
Possible improvements include rechargeable trucks, subsidies of up to $25,000 for new truck purchases, charging centers near terminals or drayage appointments that reduce waiting in line, Felleman said.
The Port of Seattle and related maritime operations emitted 27% less greenhouse gas in 2016 than in 2005, and 69% less black carbon, reflecting use of low-sulfur fuels, a regional inventory shows.
That’s still equivalent to a half-million tons per year of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, now 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) and expected to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius.
This summer, a cruise ship at Elliott Bay’s Pier 66 released a visible plume for days near Belltown, although the port says those emissions were primarily steam. The port says that pier will be converted to shore power in 2023, while Piers 90 and 91 already supply clean plug-in power. Meanwhile, a volunteer group called Seattle Cruise Control opposes potential expansions of the city’s cruise industry.
Federal infrastructure money could boost Washington State Ferries, which is launching a 20-year, $4 billion plan to convert or replace 22 vessels to include battery power and build chargers in 16 terminals.
State lawmakers didn’t approve a funding request this year to electrify terminals at Seattle and Bainbridge, and one terminal on the Mukilteo-Clinton route, said ferries spokesperson Hadley Rodero. Members of Congress from Washington state are trying for $6.2 million in federal grants. State carbon fees, scheduled to begin in 2023, are another funding source.
The state’s first hybrid ferry will begin construction at Vigor in Seattle next year, to enter service in 2025. Next in line are two jumbo-ferry conversions, to supplement their diesel motors with rechargeable batteries.
Ferries burn more than 18 million gallons of diesel per year, the state’s largest single consumer, State Ferries says.
Trottenberg also announced Wednesday that USDOT has approved the refinancing of $3.3 billion in previous federal loans to Sound Transit, at a low 1.94% interest — plus a new $500 million federal loan for the 2024 Redmond extension. Sound Transit says the deals could reduce long-term finance costs $500 million for local taxpayers, and help solve a could reduce Sound Transit’s multibillion dollar funding gap to build voter-approved bus and rail.
Her last scheduled stop was to see the world’s first light rail tracks on a floating bridge, where trains between Seattle and Bellevue will run in 2023.
This story was updated to correct the characterization of emissions released by a cruise ship docked near Belltown this summer.