Charlie Ball, president of Princess Tours, looked like a modern-day Thomas Edison as he flipped the switch Tuesday on a cleaner way to run his company's ships.
To reduce smoke emissions while its ships are moored at the South Franklin Street dock, Princess has begun using shore-based power produced by the hydroelectric plants of Alaska Electric Light and Power Co.
Thomas Dow, vice president of public affairs for Princess, said converting four of the five Princess ships that visit Alaska cost $500,000 per ship and is the first step toward making all of the company's cruise ships "clean."
The next step will be to generate steam with an electric-powered boiler replacing an oil-fired boiler, he said. "Also we are beginning to build our new ships with turbine engines instead of the diesel engines."
When the ships dock in Juneau, the crew shuts off the diesel engines that provide the power needed for on-board activities and "plug" the ship into the shored-based power source for 10 to 12 hours.
State Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Juneau Democrat, said she is pleased with Princess' efforts but has concerns about what a ship will emit once it unplugs from shore and turns its engines back on.
Dow said point emissions have been reduced greatly but cannot be eliminated completely.
"There is slightly more smoke at start up. It's like starting up any engine. Like starting a car engine," he said. "But this start-up period of smoke lasts for about 15 minutes as opposed to the 10 to 12 hours. Clearly what we have now is an improvement."
He said Princess will continue to monitor, clean and reduce emissions.
David Rogers, deputy director of air and water for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the agency will continue to keep an eye on the ships to make sure they adhere to state standards for emissions.
"They will still be held to the same air opacity and emissions rules as everyone else," he said. "This doesn't exempt them from that but it may make it less of a problem."
Dow said the ships will use 100,000 kilowatts a day from AEL&P at a cost of about $4,000 to $5,000 per day during the cruise season. Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess in Juneau, has said the cost of shoreside power is $1,000 to $2,000 per day more than the cost of burning diesel fuel while in port.
"It costs a little more to do it, but we see this as the only way to reduce visible smoke, which was an issue for the people in Juneau and we are glad we could do something about it," Dow said.
AEL&P has said the revenues from Princess' electric use, anticipated at $300,000 a season, will be used to reduce the state-imposed Cost of Power Adjustment paid by Juneau residents.
The Juneau Assembly allocated $300,000 from the passenger head tax collections to offset some of the shoreside construction costs, which Princess said totaled $2.5 million.
Melanie Plenda can be reached at email@example.com.