Princess Cruises intends to reduce its air emissions in Juneau by plugging into city power while its big ships are in port.
The cruise line announced today it would turn off its engines in Juneau and instead use surplus hydroelectric power from Alaska Electric Power and Light Co. to keep the ships' electric systems running.
"This is the first place in North America that this has ever been applied," said Princess spokesman Tom Dow. "And it's the first time we know of that it's been applied to any of these cruise ships."
The company faces eight notices from federal and state regulators for allegedly violating air opacity standards in Juneau this summer. Dow said ship exhaust is more noticeable here because of moist air, temperature inversions and the surrounding mountains.
When a Princess ship enters Juneau, it is running on two diesel engines. The plan is to turn off one engine for the first half-hour the ship is docked while an electric line is hooked up. The other engine then would be turned off for the roughly 11 hours the vessel is in port. There would be no plume of smoke during that period. The engines would start up again about 30 minutes before the ship departs.
"Great idea," said Mike Conway, cruise ship coordinator for state environmental conservation Commissioner Michele Brown.
A cruise ship working group in Alaska of industry officials, regulators and citizens has talked about the ability of cruise ships to hook up to city electric and sewer systems while in port, he said.
Robert Reges, a member of the advocacy group Cruise Control, was more cautious. He said Princess told state officials in the mid-1990s, when broached with the same idea, that there wouldn't be less emissions because starting and stopping engines creates more emissions than continuing to run them.
The aesthetics of not having a plume for 11 hours has a value, Reges said, but "Is there a real environmental benefit is the question."
Dow said the ships would have to start up a second engine anyway when they leave port. The issue is the visible smoke, not particles in the air, because recent studies have shown the pollutants don't exceed federal clean air standards, he said.
Princess will bear the cost of the dockside and shipboard equipment, which could run to more than $2 million, Dow said. It expects to pay AEL&P about $3,000 a day for electricity.
AEL&P spokesman Peter Bibb said the utility would use interruptable surplus energy from its Snettisham hydroelectric plant. A cruise ship uses about six megawatts an hour of electricity, compared with all of Juneau's 45 megawatts an hour in the summer, he said. Snettisham has a capacity of 80 megawatts an hour.
But interruptable means it's not guaranteed power. If it's not available, the cruise ships would have to use their diesel engines, Bibb said.
AEL&P intends to use the revenues from Princess to offset energy costs for the whole community by putting it into a fund that covers the cost of running diesel generators when Snettisham is down, Bibb said.
The plan awaits approval by the state's utility regulatory commission and a permit from the city to install equipment at a privately owned dock, used by Princess, on South Franklin Street. Princess officials are hopeful it could be in place by next summer for its 72 planned stops at the private dock.