News Story

Environmental agency seeks $200K contract to develop strategy on maritime port electrification

Experts disagree on program effectiveness

A Michigan state agency is seeking to spend $200,000 on a consulting contract to help it develop a program with the stated intention of reducing emissions in the maritime sector.

The program will “advance greening, electrification, decarbonization, equity and environmental justice, infrastructure, and the sustainability of Michigan’s maritime sector while ensuring the efficient movement of goods,” according to an announcement from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

The notice for the taxpayer-funded project includes creating an “engagement and dissemination strategy” to engage maritime stakeholders. The program aims to tug Michigan toward its MI Healthy Climate Plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

In 2022, renewable energy sources provided 12% of electricity generated, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind comprises most of that 12%, followed by biomass, hydroelectric, and solar energy.

Experts have mixed views about the project.

“This program will do nothing to ensure the efficient movement of goods,” said Jason Hayes, director of energy and environmental policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Instead, he said, it will raise prices and reduce efficiency in the waterborne freight sector.

CapCon asked the environmental agency how it determined the need for this project, but the agency hasn’t responded.

Chuck Canestraight is the president of Sand Products Corporation for Port City Marine Services in Muskegon. He says the marine industry could reduce emissions at Michigan ports. Most commercial vessels are outfitted with diesel-burning power generators, which they use during loading and discharging.

“Port terminals outfitted with adequate plug-in power sources, referred to as ‘shore power’ could allow port operators to require visiting vessels to idle their generators while running hotel, ballast pumping, and even unloading gear operations emissions-free,” Canestraight said.

Port terminals have mobile equipment, such as lifts and loaders, that run on diesel fuel, Canestraight told CapCon. Since they are close to port terminals, they could be updated with alternative-fuel and battery-powered units.

The federal and state governments are discussing port electrification, Canestraight continued, adding that port electrification could be a more cost-effective use of taxpayer dollars than other alternative power generation projects.

The Mackinac Center’s Hayes thinks the lack of industry involvement is telling. “If the industry is not willing to invest in these efficiency initiatives, why should it expect me to invest in it with my tax dollars?”

Going fully electric, Hayes said, could limit productivity when electricity is in short supply. The industry would be expected to shut down or idle operations until peak demand for electricity has passed, he said.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.