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Cargo Ship Plugs Into New Technology at Port of L.A.

Some docked vessels can now power systems with electricity instead of diesel fuel in program to reduce air pollution.

June 22, 2004|Sara Lin | Times Staff Writer

A Chinese container ship on Monday became the first cargo vessel to use electrical power while docked at the Port of Los Angeles, part of an effort to reduce air pollution at the harbor.

The program -- mandated under a court settlement with environmentalist and community groups -- is designed to reduce the diesel exhaust from cargo ships that idle for days at a time with their engines running.

Each ship that docks at the harbor creates an estimated 3 tons of nitrogen oxide and 350 pounds of soot in what is considered a major contributor to Southern California's poor air quality.

In the so-called green terminal, ships will shut down their diesel-burning engines while in the harbor and use electricity to power their systems.

The first ship to use the technology is the Xin Yang Zhou, a part of China Shipping Co.'s vast fleet. The cargo company is the first to retrofit its ships to plug into electrical outlets at the terminal. The port is in negotiations with other companies to take part.

The port paid $5 million to install the plug-in technology and put aside another $5 million for the retrofitting of China Shipping's vessels. So far, it has outfitted four of the firm's ships at an average cost of $300,000 each.

The Port of Los Angeles says it is the first commercial harbor in the world to use a plug-in facility for cargo ships, though such technology has been used for years by the Navy and private yacht marinas.

On Monday morning, city and port officials stood at the edge of the new China Shipping terminal and joined a ceremonial plug and socket.

"The ability of container ships to plug in is going to make a huge difference for air quality in Los Angeles," said Daniel Hinerfeld, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which helped negotiate the settlement.

His group and another environmental organization released a study in March that ranked the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as the largest fixed source of air pollution in Southern California. The study said the ports produce as much diesel exhaust as 16,000 tractor-trailers idling their engines for 24 hours a day.

Air-quality officials have struggled to figure out ways to reduce port pollution, which involves ships from around the world that are difficult to regulate.

The development of the green terminal began in 2001 when the port and city approved a lease to China Shipping without filing the environmental impact studies.

Neighborhood groups teamed up with the defense council and the Coalition for Clean Air and filed suit, alleging that the port had violated state and federal development laws. In October 2002, a court order halted construction.

The port began negotiations with the environmental groups and reached a settlement. In return for allowing the terminal to open, the port agreed to $60 million worth of environmentally friendly measures, including the plug-in system.

The settlement also required that trucks operating in and around the new terminal run on cleaner alternative fuels and that all other equipment in the terminal have devices installed in them to reduce emissions.

City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, whose district includes several harbor communities, supported the call for more green terminals.

"I think we proved that we don't need to make a choice between economic development and the environment ... we can have both," Hahn said. "This is the kind of mitigation that local communities have deserved for a long time."

Several of the groups that filed suit against the port said they were pleased with the opening and hope that the trend will continue.

"Our view is that every terminal can implement these green practices and protect the local community while still turning a profit," said Gail Ruderman Feuer, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The community is not opposed to expansion

Feuer said the real test of whether officials are committed to reducing pollution from the ports will come in the following months as they begin planning expansions at several terminals not covered by the lawsuit settlement.

Theresa Adams Lopez, spokeswoman for the Port of Los Angeles, said officials are working on a second electric dock. Pier 400 has been outfitted with the plug-in technology, but none of the ships that dock there are equipped to use the system.

Typically, ships need to keep their diesel engines running while in port to power refrigerators, lights and computer equipment.

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