November could bring the City and Borough of Juneau a windfall of federal money to electrify two city-owned cruise ship docks downtown — an idea that generally has broad support in Juneau’s ongoing discussions about how large deck cruising shapes the city.
Over the summer, city leaders submitted a federal grant application to cover the lion’s share of construction. While officials wait for the Nov. 22, announcement of grant recipients, the project is entering a new phase.
At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, CBJ Assembly members heard from engineers and consultants about the current study phase, which includes assessing what it will take to provide shore power to docked ships and how much it will cost to build the capacity.
We have the power, sometimes
Overall, the project team reported that enough excess hydropower is available during years of average precipitation to supply most ships with shore power connections.
The finding is based on historical data from the electrified Franklin Dock, Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. data and uses the 2022 cruise schedule to project power needs.
“We can provide shore power and significantly reduce emissions,” said Erich Schall, CBJ port engineer and architect.
Schaal said the projections did not consider that cruise ships may berth differently in the future based on a desire for power availability and that those types of changes could drive additional demand.
“We are confident use of infrastructure will increase over time,” Schaal said. He explained that before each cruise season starts, AEL&P would work with the cruise ship companies to assess the shore power options for the season.
In addition, Schall said that drought conditions could affect electricity availability, as not enough excess power would be available with less water flowing.
In those cases, cruise ships—which would be interruptible customers—would have to turn to self-generated power while docked in Juneau.
Weather factors could affect the amount of power available during the shoulder seasons, said Ben Haight, president and CEO of Haight & Associates, a local firm that studied Juneau’s energy structure.
He said that during cold winters with heavy snowfalls, the water needed to generate excess power may be locked in ice and not available until later in the summer, leaving some ships short of the power they want. By contrast, wet springs could leave ships arriving in late summer short of hydroelectric power.
He said that global climate change adds a layer of difficulty to predicting precipitation levels into the future.
A question of power
Haight’s finding that Juneau currently has enough excess energy available to power docked cruise ships about 25% of the time raised eyebrows among some assembly members and long-time advocates of shore power.
Assembly member Wade Bryson said he felt “sabotaged” by the 25% prediction and said he expected more capacity to be available.
Schaal said he understood Bryson’s frustration but said that showing the city is serious about building the capacity puts the docks in line to get “every drop of water that gets spilled,” to power the electrified docks.
Debbie Driscoll, vice president, director of consumer affairs and safety at AEL&P said the finding seemed accurate.
“The great thing about hydropower is that the ‘fuel’ (water) is free. The uncertainty with hydropower is that you don’t know when or how much precipitation or snowfall you will get, and you don’t know when the snowfall will melt to provide the inflows needed for generation. Additionally, the amount of energy available in a reservoir is dependent upon the level of the reservoir at the time the energy is generated (higher reservoir levels = more energy per gallon of water). Taking all of that into consideration means that we think 25% is a reasonable estimate.”
However, Duff Mitchell, managing director of Juneau Hyrdropower, expressed disappointment with the report, questioned its findings and the premise that the docks should be interruptible customers. Mitchell said making the docks firm customers would help ensure that AEL&P generated adequate power to sell.
“I think there was a lot of economic gymnastics to get to that conclusion. They never could give a cost of firm power costs,” Mitchell said. “They made it sound like if these docks were firm customers, it would blow up the costs.”
Mitchell said that there’s no economic or technological reason that more energy can’t be available. He said he’s not sure why the project isn’t moving forward differently, and given the broad-based agreement on the need to electrify cruise ship docks, he’d like to see more progress made.
“My goal is to have the community row the canoe forward and not just have a lot of splashing,” he said.
Making more power
Haight said that additional electricity infrastructure improvements are up to AEL&P and based on their business strategy.
Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale suggested that the city could lean on AEL&P to create additional energy to sell because cruise ship electrification is a high priority.
Driscoll said AEL&P is considering options.
“Staying ‘right-sized’ with hydro resources in a geographically isolated area is a challenge that we constantly strive to meet because it provides the most economic benefit to the community. Planning when to bring on the next increment of generation involves many factors that we are currently weighing. Our goal is to provide affordable, renewable energy in a responsible manner,” Driscoll said.
Brandon Ivanowicz, an engineer with PND Engineers, Inc., shared construction plans for electrifying CBJ’s two municipal piers at the same time.
He said electricity would flow from a new AEL&P substation installed on a hill above the dock with cables traveling below grade in the existing infrastructure.
Based on current plans, ships could plug into the grid on the starboard side, a design that accommodates about 90% of the vessels projected to dock there.
He said the total projected construction costs to build the capacity are just under $25 million.
Paying the bill
The report comes as city leaders wait to see if Juneau will win a federal grant the city is pursuing as part of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainably and Equity Grant program.
If approved, the grant would pay for about 80% of the cost to design, purchase, install and maintain shore tie power connections to both city-owned cruise ship berths and docks owned by CBJ. As part of the grant application process, the city agreed to authorize a 20% local match for federal money.
Carl Uchytil, docks and harbors port director, said he remains optimistic the city will be awarded the money because of President Joe Biden’s focus on climate change initiatives.
“Dock electrification is a high priority for Biden. I think we should be heartened at some point that we will get a grant to move forward with this,” Uchytil said.
Jim Calvin, vice president and senior economist at the McKinley Research Group, said that federal grant funding is essential to the project.
“We want to avoid increasing the cost of energy for Juneau’s firm rate payers,” Calvin said. He also suggested the city avoid debt financing for the project, explaining that debt costs are fixed, but ships can move around to different ports.
According to Schaal, the presentation will be available for public comment next.
Assembly member and Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski suggested a relatively long public comment period before the topic returns to the Committee of the Whole for further consideration.
She said that the timeline offers the city manager an opportunity to explore alternative funding sources if the city does not win the federal grant.
Other electrified docks
Currently, there is one electrified dock in Juneau, the privately owned South Franklin dock, which is owned by Princess Cruises. In 2001, it was the first of its kind in the world.
In addition to electrifying city-owned docks, more electric docks may be on the horizon for Juneau.
Representatives for Norwegian Cruise Line, the company seeking to build a new cruise ship dock on its waterfront property on Egan Drive, have said that dock electrification is a priority for the project.
Proponents of dock electrification note that electric docks reduce pollution from cruise ships and other marine vessels by replacing diesel fuel with clean, renewable energy.
Additionally, according to the resolution passed by the city, CBJ consistently receives public comments concerning emissions caused by cruise ships, and the Visitor Industry Task Force recommended that CBJ prioritize electrification of all cruise ship docks.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.