Just about anything that burns fuel produces smoke, including cruise ships. Areas surrounded by mountains tend to trap that smoke, including Gastineau Channel.
But there's less smoke in the air because one of the companies bringing cruise ships to town invested time and money into an alternative power system aimed at lessening emissions.
Princess Cruises, working with Alaska Electric Light and Power, took the first step about a year ago when it turned on a switch that connected a shore-based system to its cruise ships tied up at the private Franklin Dock. The system, which uses surplus hydropower, includes an expensive electrical substation across Thane Road from the dock and cables as thick as your arm.
As a result, the Princess Sun-class ships were able to turn off oil-burning onboard electrical generators while tied up at the dock.
The cruise line took the next step recently when it began hooking up its ships to a new shore-based electric boiler, again using surplus hydropower. That allowed the ships to shut down oil-burning onboard boilers that produce smoke while making steam for heating and ventilation systems, the laundry and dishwashers.
Princess Superintendent Ken Gillespie said the changeover means no engines are running when the ships are docked.
The ships will make some smoke while sailing into and out of town and while starting up the engines and boilers in preparation for departure. But that's still a lot of down time for smokestacks that used to produce emissions while the ships were in port.
The conversion didn't come cheap. Princess spent about $6 million on the project, including some $2.5 million for ship alterations and $3.5 million for the electrical substation, boiler and other shoreside facilities. The city has chipped in about 10 percent of the funds so far, using cruise-ship passenger fee money.
Princess' purchase of surplus hydropower adds revenues to AEL&P. And the power company says all the revenue is used to reduce other customers' bills.
We congratulate Princess on its decision to modify its ships and to invest in the equipment needed to use local electricity to reduce emissions. We acknowledge the conversion to gas turbine engines by some other cruise lines. As older ships are replaced by new ones, we encourage all lines to take advantage of modern technology to reduce air pollution.