“Plug in to cleaner cruise stops.” Post and Courier, April 1, 2012, editorial.
The debate about whether cruise ships should be required to use shoreside power boils down to this: Does Charleston want the cleanest air possible, or is it enough to breathe air that will be cleaner than it is now?
The non-profit group Charleston Communities for Cruise Control casts its vote for “cleanest” and the shoreside power that can produce it.
But Jim Newsome, State Port Authority president and chief executive officer, said it is “an inferior option for our port, and is not recognized as the standard best practice to reduce air emissions from ships.”
Mr. Newsome was responding to Dr. Stephen I. Schabel, president of the Charleston County Medical Society, who encouraged the SPA to use shoreside power to mitigate serious health problems that can result from exposure to ship emissions.
The fact is that, due to new standards, the amount of particulate matter emitted by cruise ships — indeed, all ships — is going to drop significantly.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ships within 200 miles of land will have to use fuel with no more than 0.1 percent sulfur by 2015. This is expected to reduce particulate emissions (sulfur oxide) by more than 85 percent.
Beginning in 2016, new engines on vessels in that zone must use emission controls that achieve an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions.
Those are advances to celebrate.
But with shoreside power, the air could be even cleaner. When a cruise ship idles at the dock, using cleaner fuel, it will still produce emissions. When it is being powered by electricity from the dock, it produces none.
Shoreside power also eliminates the vibration and noise of on-board generators that passengers, crew and neighbors are subjected to.
Shifting to shoreside power requires an investment on the part of the cruise ship company as well as the port. And it requires working with SCE&G to ensure there is adequate power at an affordable price. That is an area where the city of Charleston could be helpful — and should want to be. SCE&G operates under franchise with the city.
Unfortunately, the city has, so far, opted not to push the SPA to move to shoreside power.
Mr. Newsome is paid to look at the bottom line of port business. It is his responsibility to weigh benefits of shoreside power against expenses.
But the cost will come to South Carolina one way or another. The EPA says just changing to cleaner fuel should save up to 14,000 lives and relieve respiratory symptoms for almost five million people each year in the country.
For 2020, the medical savings should be $110 billion. Using shoreside power would save even more.
The SPA has made improvements to address air quality, including a truck replacement program so that more trucks pollute less. Mr. Newsome says the SPA is interested in curbing port-related air emissions.
So why not go one more step? Why not use shoreside power for cruise ships?