July 13th, 2020 by Steve Hanley
America’s ports have some of the dirtiest air, thanks to the constant loading and unloading of ships and moving freight around using diesel engines. The diesel is really the workhorse of commerce, doing the heavy lifting that humans and animals used to do before the era of the infernal combustion engine arrived.
The coastal area between Los Angeles and Long Beach in California were once the busiest ports in the world (Trump and the coronavirus have altered that scenario significantly) but the Port of Virginia is also a major import hub on America’s East Coast. Now here’s the “every cloud has a silver lining” part. Virginia has decided to use $14 million of the $93.6 million in funds it got from the Volkswagen diesel cheating scandal settlement to help the Port of Virginia purchase two electric container cranes and a number of electric drayage vehicles to move freight around within the port facility.
$10 million from the state of Virginia grant will be matched by the Port of Virginia to buy two cranes from China’s Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries. The order is expected to be placed this fall and it should take about 18 months for them to arrive and be installed. The remaining $4 million will used to purchase five new electric tractors to replace diesel-powered units in use today. The funds will also pay for charging stations to supply the needs of those electric trucks.
According to the Virginian-Pilot, Virginia governor Ralph Northam said when announcing the plan for the Port of Virginia that an additional $20 million would be reserved for local governments throughout the state to replace diesel vehicles with zero emission, all electric versions. Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander added that his city is in the midst of program to switch its fleet of vehicles to cleaner versions.
Northam said the effort at the port aligns with the state’s goal of converting entirely to clean energy by 2050. He said it’s possible for the state to be both environmentally friendly and attractive to business, saying a focus on renewable energy is increasingly a draw for businesses looking to relocate or grow.
“The port is trying to be holistic in its approach,” John Reinhart, CEO of the Port of Virginia, tells the Virginian-Pilot. He noted the port has recently added 26 new truck lanes to reduce idling, replaced diesel-powered container carriers with hybrid shuttles and now uses a barge to ferry containers between Hampton Roads and Richmond. The ferry has reduced the number of tractor trailer trips on the interstate highways between the two facilities by 45,000 per year. Reinhart says replacing the existing diesel cranes with two electric cranes will reduce the amount of diesel fuel used by the port each year by 75,000 gallons.
The Port of Virginia is nearing the end of a multi-year $800 million expansion that includes four electric container cranes for Virginia International Gateway. The new electric cranes will be in addition to two others scheduled to arrive at the Norfolk International Terminals in October as part of an earlier contract. A channel dredging project should be completed at about the same time as the two new electric cranes arrive and will allow some of the largest container ships in the world to access the Port of Virginia.
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