Ocean Voyager cruise ship
The Ocean Voyager cruise ship docked at Ocean Gateway in Portland last month. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)
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Shoreside power is one of several methods being considered to reduce environmental impacts from cruise ships, but the jury is out on how it would work in Portland.

The first ship of the cruise season docked in the city just over a month ago, reigniting conversations about economic benefits and environmental harm from the cruise industry. The city’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee met May 11 to discuss the impacts and what they mean for Portland’s sustainability and climate goals.

Andrew Zarro
City Councilor Andrew Zarro said his constituents are eager to discuss the impact of cruise ships on Portland’s economy and environment.

City Councilor Andrew Zarro, the committee chair, said the committee’s role is to work with the industry to keep the ships in line with the city’s goals.

“We know this industry is notorious for being a big carbon emitter,” Zarro said. “This is one of the most sought-after conversations by our constituents.”

Maureen Hayes, a maritime policy adviser from the Cruise Lines International Association,  described steps that the industry has taken in recent years to mitigate pollution produced by cruise ships.

“The industry is acting now for the future,” Hayes said, pursuing a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 and hoping to have all ships equipped by 2035 to use shoreside electricity, or SSE, when available.

SSE at ports allows ship engines to be shut down while berthed, which would eliminate emissions caused by idling. According to the city, the typical cruise ship idles from six to 10 hours while in port.

A 2017 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said massive engines like those of cruise ships can be significant contributors to air pollution. The use of shore power, the report said, typically produces zero emissions.

There are now only 14 ports with shoreside electricity available worldwide, Hayes told the committee, and even when the option is available ships are not required to plug in.

Zarro said SSE would fall in line with Portland’s “Electrify Everything” goals to transition away from fossil fuels, although the grid would have to be as much as three times larger to accommodate the level of power necessary for the ships.

In cases where ports aren’t equipped to provide SSE, Hayes said alternative low-carbon technologies could be made available to ships, also by 2035.

Sarah Flink, executive director of CruiseMaine, which is part of the Maine Office of Tourism, said her organization is in the early stages of working with municipalities to gauge the possibility of shore power.

“As we’re looking to add more power to our electric grid for all kinds of things, to electrify everything, this should be part of the planning process,” Flink said.

The conversation could continue at the Cruise Canada New England 2022 Symposium, which will be held in Portland on June 13-15.