Thursday, February 10, 2011

Council of the City of New York To Hold Hearing on Shore Power Resolution, while Con Edison asks, "Who Should Pay?" (NEW UPDATE - HEARING POSTPONED!)


: An article in the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance's excellent on-line publication, "Waterwire", titled, "CITY COUNCIL ADDS TO CLAMOR CALLING FOR ELECTRICAL SHORE POWER IN BROOKLYN" (story here), notes that the City Council's Committee on Waterfronts hearing on the shore power resolution is open to the public.

Details: Thursday, February 17, 1pm, 250 Broadway, 16th Floor.
In my last post, I wrote about the squabbling that continues to stall the plan to bring shore power to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

This squabbling centers around the debate about who should pay for the added cost of powering the ships by using shore generated electricity compared to the cost of burning the cheapest and dirtiest form of diesel (bunker fuel) to idle their engines while in port, as the cruise ships (and every other cruise and container ship visiting the Ports of NY and NJ) currently do.

There are those that think that Carnival, the operators of the cruise ships, who are making huge profits (while paying very little tax), should just "cough up" and pay the added cost of using electricity. It's been asserted that this is only fair because there is coming regulation that will eventually create an Emissions Control Area (ECA) around the continental waters of the US and Canada that would stipulate that ships had to use a cleaner form of diesel in those waters, and therefore while idling in port. This fuel will be more expensive, and so the difference between paying current rates of electricity, as supplied by Con Ed in Brooklyn's case, and using the cleaner, more expensive fuel would be negligible, according to many - including a commenter on my last post. So the argument is, the ships should pay for the clean, green-house gas and harmful emissions reducing electricity now, because they'll just have to use the more expensive fuel in the future.

The alternate argument is that Con Ed should supply a cheaper rate of electricity so as not to create an economic deterrent to the ships' operators for the use of shore power. This is a strategy that cities on the West Coast have taken to incentivize the use of shore power with all types of ships in many of their ports, including ones that Carnival cruise ships use now.

Con Edison has not been willing, so far, to go along with this idea. This is why there has been this drawn out process at the Public Service Commission regarding a case that has been requesting the creation of a special "tariff", or rate of supply of electricity, which would specifically address the requirements of the cruise ships. The argument has been that the ships would be creating new business for Con Ed, business that they would not otherwise have, and that the unique needs of the ships - i.e., plugging in for short periods (12 or so hours at a time), and their ability to generate their own power if there was any interruption of shore power supply, etc. - warrants the creation of a special reduced rate tariff.

There have been many supporting this idea.

In their original testimony to the Public Service Commission, the EPA made important statements about the harmful health impacts of ship emissions (see them on the side bar of this blog), and made these further points supporting the establishment of a "shore power tariff" -

  • e. Implementation of a shore power tariff is consistent with economic development in New York City.
  • f. Implementation of an appropriate Shore Power Tariff in New York City would provide an impetus for ship owners to invest in ship-side Shore Power equipment and for widespread use of this technology in other ports on the East Coast.
  • g. None of the Company's tariff's accurately account for the unique service characteristics of ships that dock in New York City.

There have been others making similar points - from the Port Authority to many of our elected officials - some who have made their argument in written testimony to the Public Service Commission in support of the establishment of the new tariff.

However, the Public Service Commission - over a year after hearing these arguments - has yet to act, and in a statement made by their staff, quoted in a recent NY Times "Questions About New York" column by Michael Pollock (here), the PSC claims that "the way Con Edison’s delivery rates are currently structured posed “neither a barrier to, nor an unwarranted incentive for” the kind of electrical facilities shore-based power would need."

Not exactly encouraging.

In that column, in a section that deals with a question about the stalled shore power plan, there is also a quote from Con Edison that explains their recalcitrance on this matter, stating that they are reluctant to create a new shore power tariff because they are concerned that setting a "special rate" for one group, i.e. the operators of the ships, may unfairly burden another, i.e. homeowners.

“How do you come up with a fair rate that doesn’t burden other customers?” Chanoch Lubling, Con Edison’s vice president of regulatory services, said in an interview. Shore-based power through feeder connections “happens to be a great idea,” he said. “I think the big debate here is who should pay for their cost.”

Unfortunately, the representative from Con Edison doesn't seem to recognize the fact that there is already a cost being paid. It's a cost being borne by the residents of port-side communities such as Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and others. A real health cost.

Nowhere in their equation of "fairness" does Con Ed acknowledge the real health effects that our communities are suffering - in asthma, cancer, heart disease and premature mortality. This burden is being carried by our most vulnerable - children, the elderly, low income and minority communities, people with lung disease - and the Port Authority has stated in testimony to the PSC that the switch to shore power at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal would save Brooklyn residents yearly health costs "approaching $9 Million".

If the concerned parties could work out their differences and finalize this shore power deal, the burden of these health impacts could finally be lifted from our communities.

The concern about those real health impacts is pushing some of our representatives in the Council of the City of New York to present a resolution that, as Resolution 463 states, "urges the New York State Public Service Commission to immediately set a competitive electrical rate at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in order to facilitate the use of shore-based electrical power by cruise ships that wish to cease idling in ports and reduce the amount of emissions released into the surrounding neighborhoods."

The entire resolution is at the bottom of this post. It cites many of the facts I have been articulating in this blog and makes a compelling case for the immediate creation of a "shore power tariff".

The Committee on Waterfronts will be holding their hearing on the resolution on February 17, 2011 at 1:00PM at Council chambers, 16th Floor, 250 Broadway, New York, NY. This hearing is open to the public.

Hopefully the resolution will spur some action and push forward a process that will lead to a long-term solution. But while we're waiting for the PSC to rule on this - and given their track record, it might take a while - something needs to be done to get the shore power plan up and running, a.s.a.p.

The bottom line is, at least in the short term, someone might need to pay - whether it's Carnival who seem to be doing pretty well right now, or perhaps the NYC Economic Development Corporation (who could subsidize Carnival or Con Ed in the short term), or, hey, Con Ed could just create a cheaper rate for the ships and know that they're getting a whole lot of new business, and maybe more to come with what should be the expansion of shore power throughout the Ports of New York.

What is clear is that it's unfair to ask our most vulnerable to pay this cost any longer. Kids with asthma, the elderly, minority communities and people with lung disease shouldn't have to bear this burden any longer.

Action is needed - right now.

Here's the resolution -

Res. No. 463

Resolution urging the New York State Public Service Commission to immediately set a competitive electrical rate at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in order to facilitate the use of shore-based electrical power by cruise ships that wish to cease idling in ports and reduce the amount of emissions released into the surrounding neighborhoods.

By Council Members Nelson, Chin, Fidler, Gentile, James, Koppell, Lander, Palma, Rose, Sanders Jr., Williams, Rodriguez, Seabrook, Levin, Gonzalez and Halloran
  • Whereas, Bunker fuel, a heavy petroleum product that is left behind after the distilling process, is one of the dirtiest fuels and is used to power most cargo ships because it is much cheaper than other fuel sources; and
  • Whereas, Bunker fuel releases gases such as carbon, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide when it is burned and therefore, 43% of particulate matter in ports are due to marine vessels; and
  • Whereas, According to a study published in the journal of the American Chemical Society, pollution from cargo ships in 2002 was linked to the premature deaths of 60,000 people worldwide; and
  • Whereas, When cruise ships dock, their engines idle at the terminal in order to keep the electrical systems on the ship running; and
  • Whereas, Environmentalists believe that a ship docked for one day emits as much exhaust as 10,000 cars; and
  • Whereas, To avoid idling, ships have begun to employ a process called shore power, or cold-ironing, in which a ship plugs into an electrical power supply at the port, allowing the ship to turn off its engine; and
  • Whereas, Shore power permits a large extension cable from the pier to be plugged into the ship, giving it power to operate its machinery without running the engine; and
  • Whereas, According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, implementing cold-ironing at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal would reduce annual nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 100 tons each, particulate matter by 6 tons, and carbon dioxide emissions by almost 1,500 tons; and
  • Whereas, The Port Authority also estimates that reducing emissions by switching to shore power would create $9 million per year in health benefits; and
  • Whereas, Shore power is already in use at ports such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Diego; and
  • Whereas, In order to bring shore power to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, the Port Authority has committed to invest $15 million in capital for infrastructure improvements and the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Port Authority $2.85 million to support improvements as well; and
  • Whereas, Carnival Cruise Lines has also committed to investing $1 million to $2 million per ship to enable the vessels to connect to electric power; and
  • Whereas, A major obstacle, however, that is standing in the way of implementing shore power at the cruise terminal is the price of electric power, which can cost millions of dollars more than leaving the ship idle; and
  • Whereas, Con Edison's electric rates for shore power are too costly and must be lowered in order to be competitive with the cheaper bunker fuel that is used while idling; and
  • Whereas, New York City and the Port Authority have both lobbied the New York State Public Service Commission to institute a shore power tariff that is economically viable for cruise ships; and
  • Whereas, An appropriate shore power tariff in New York City would discontinue the use of high polluting diesel engines, improve the air quality of Brooklyn and New York City in general, and provide the potential for the establishment of shore power throughout the ports of New York; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York urges the New York State Public Service Commission to immediately set a competitive electrical rate at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in order to facilitate the use of shore-based electrical power by cruise ships that wish to cease idling in ports and reduce the amount of emissions released into the surrounding neighborhoods.

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