Is cold ironing a viable, cost-effective strategy for reducing the pollution from the Los Angeles ports?

The California Air Resources Board believes it likely is.

An air board draft report on the process in which ships docked at port use an onshore electric source rather than auxiliary diesel generators for their power needs concludes wide-scale, statewide cold ironing would cost more than $900 million to implement on existing terminals and ships, but would still be economically feasible.

That would especially be the case for container, cruise and other ships that make frequent calls.

"As shipping volumes increase, the emissions reductions achievable from cold-ironing increase dramatically, and the cost effectiveness of the strategy also improve," concludes the report, which was obtained by the Business Journal last week.

Reducing pollution at the ports both in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state has become a leading environmental issue as studies have shown the facilities are a leading cause of air pollution, especially from diesel exhaust.

And the problem is only expected to get worse. Since 2000, container traffic has increased at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports by 40 percent and is projected to triple by 2020.

Cold ironing has been hailed as a possible solution because it targets a primary source of that exhaust: the inefficient auxiliary diesel engines that ships run while they are docked.

The report found that it could cost between $500,000 to $1.5 million to retrofit each oceangoing ship to accept onshore power, but doing so could result in a 70 percent reduction in air pollution emitted by ports, which also are a center of truck and rail traffic.

Air board spokeswoman Karen Caesar said that cold ironing would be a great complement to other pollution-reduction measures, such as filtering ship exhausts, using low-sulfur diesel fuel and instituting mandatory speed limits.

"By using all of these options we will be able to make an immediate and meaningful impact on reducing pollution."

The costs of reducing pollution are usually measured by the ton, and the report said cold ironing would cost about $18,500 per ton. That would make it the most expensive method available, but it also is cited as the most effective.

Noting the expense, terminal operators and shipping companies have not quickly embraced cold ironing, though they have not come out publicly opposing it.

Currently, China Shipping Co.'s terminal No. 100 in the Port of Los Angeles is the only container terminal in Southern California using cold ironing. And even that was forced by a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the City of Los Angeles.

However, some shippers are incorporating the technology in their newest vessels. Evergreen Marine Corp., the fourth-largest container shipping company in the world, has pledged to incorporate cold ironing into its new, large S-class ships, which carry more than 7,000 20-foot equivalent unit containers.

"We should not wait for the introduction of new regulations to tell us we're to improve," said Evergreen Marine's chairman Chang Kuo-Cheng in a March 6 speech in Long Beach. "As a responsible corporation, we should go beyond compliance and adopt clean technology to protect the marine environment and port communities."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.