In less than a year, many of the towering cargo ships loading and unloading goods at California ports won’t just tie up at dock they’ll also plug in.

In January, the state will become the first government body in the world to require container fleets docking at its major ports to shut-off their diesel engines and use electricity for 50 per cent of their visits or face crippling fines. The requirements also include slashing fleet emissions by half, and those requirements rise to 80 per cent in 2020.

The regulations by the California Air Resources Board mark a sea change in the industry that has ports, shippers and terminal owners who do business in some of the busiest port complexes in the U.S. scrambling to meet the deadline and navigate new technological challenges.

It also comes at a time when California’s bustling ports are under increasing pressure to remain competitive while at the same time reducing pollution with initiatives that have, in some cases, been met with harsh opposition from the truckers and shippers that are their life blood.

Ports have largely embraced the opportunity to clean up their emissions and say it’s the latest in a line of changes to improve air quality, from requiring cleaner-running trucks to asking ships to reduce their speed into port to creating a zone around the shore within which vessels must use less polluting fuel.

“Ships by far are the biggest challenge and they’re the hardest to get at because they’re flagged in foreign countries and deployed all over the world. We don’t have a lot of tools to get at them,” she said. “That’s why shore power is critical to us,” said Renee Moilanen, an environmental specialist associate with the Port of Long Beach.

The new regulations would apply to ports in San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Port Hueneme, San Francisco and Oakland.

Some other locations, such as the Port of Tacoma, Washington, allow vessels to plug in while at dock, but it’s voluntary and primarily used by ships that return hundreds of times to the same berth. The technology is also attractive for cruise ships, which dock repeatedly at the same location but use lots of power.

Ports in Japan, Hong Kong, Rotterdam and Antwerp have all expressed interest in shore power, said J. Christopher Lytle, executive director of the Port of Long Beach.

“I think the shipping lines understand that this is an idea whose time has come,” he said. — AP

More In: Comment | Opinion