Details about dockside power conversion

Thinking Out Loud

Posted: Wednesday, May 16, 2001

In a few weeks, downtown Juneau will experience a change. After a decade of more and bigger cruise ships pulling alongside the downtown Juneau docks and idling their engines and firing up their oil-fueled steam boilers for the duration of their visits, the practice will be discontinued beginning in mid-June for an estimated 72 such dockings this season.

The 72 dockings represent an average of 18 trips to Juneau by each of four cruise ships in the Princess fleet.

Ships in port are hotels for 2,000 to 3,000 people. Lights burn and hair dryers blow while kitchens, dining rooms and air conditioning systems don't miss a beat. The burning of oil to fire engines to create power to provide light on docked ships is a universal practice. Next month, Juneau becomes the host site for a cutting-edge change.

I've known for months that a dockside power project was in the works but the details eluded me. Being mechanically challenged, I envisioned a big power cord with a big plug snaking across the dock like an overstuffed python toward its gender-opposite equivalent hanging over the ship railing.

It's a lot more complicated than that. And because it had not been done anywhere else, Princess and its local contractors and AEL&P had to figure out how to do it. If you didn't get to the Thane Road end of town during the winter you may have missed the heavy lifting, which included building a $1.2 million electrical substation.

(Knowing that every aspect of cruise ship tourism is scrutinized to the nth degree, allow me to mention that electrical substations exist all over Juneau.)

Contractors then bored under Thane Road to bring five 3 1/2-inch diameter cables from the transformer station to the ships. Because of Juneau's extreme tidal ranges, the cables to the dock had to be flexible and supported by brackets extending over the water.

Separately, steam will be produced on shore and piped to the ships. The Princess ships had to be converted at what the company says was a cost of about $500,000 each in order to accept the electrical power. Princess says these major modifications are being done while the ships are in service so the changes can be experienced during the current season.

As the befuddled excutive on the IBM commercials asks, is this a good thing or a bad thing?

In Juneau, cruise ship tourism is warmly welcomed and icily opposed. Among the opponents are those who understand that cruise ships are here to stay and that it makes sense to mitigate negative impacts and that mitigation evolves over time and those who don't.

Our nation fought a civil war to extend human rights to people who were treated as property. Another century went by before segregation was outlawed. In my Baby Boomer youth, cigarettes were cool and drunken driving was excused.

In Juneau, cruise ship tourism is an issue that dims in comparison to civil rights, the health impacts of smoking and the tragedies of alcohol abuse. Working through this issue is going to be easier (not always easy) and happen faster (not always as fast as some would like).

Let's keep our perspective. The basis for much of the criticism of cruise ship tourism is inconvenience. Princess says it has changed its tour routes and relocated its motorcoach station to eliminate 10,000 trips through the downtown corridor this summer.

On the pollution side, Princess, for one, acknowledges that Juneau's climate and topography contribute to smoke accumulation. Thus this first, $4.5 million dockside power project, which city officials say will be supported by $300,000 in passenger fee revenues this year. Historic industry practices are giving way to agreements and laws to clean up and to reduce discharges into the water and air.

Change. Good change. If we demand it, we should acknowledge it.

Steve Reed can be reached at

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