America’s Ports as Economic and Environmental Stewards: Port Electrification Opportunities & Challenges

America’s Ports as Economic and Environmental Stewards: Port Electrification Opportunities & Challenges

America’s Ports as Economic and Environmental Stewards: Port Electrification Opportunities & Challenges

By: Maria S. Bocanegra
With Contribution from Nick LaPointe

It is well established by now that the transportation sector accounts for 27% of greenhouse gas emissions.[1] As America moves toward decarbonization of transportation, policies are enabling electrification beyond traditional passenger vehicles/light duty vehicles and into the port industry.

America’s ports support more than thirty million jobs and approximately 26% of our nation’s GDP.[2] Like most of our roadways, US ports face a host of infrastructure issues that threaten our nation’s supply chain.[3]

Recent federal legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law aims to provide $17 billion to improve port infrastructure, waterways, and freight networks Additionally, the Inflation Reduction Act provides  $3 billion  strictly dedicated to port electrification and port emissions reduction.[4][5] Port electrification can usher in a host of benefits including lower total cost of ownership on electrified equipment, greater equipment dependability, improved working conditions, better air quality, job creation, local economic development, noise pollution reduction, lower local emissions, greater global competitiveness, and more sustainable operations both within ports and along the supply chain cycle. Realizing these benefits, Ports are setting goals around climate, decarbonization, and ESG. As port decarbonization slowly garners increasing attention across both inland and seaside ports, such partnership can address electrification of cranes, yard tractors, locomotives, forklifts, and other alternative fuel sources.[6]

In California, research and development company GTI Energy partnered with the California Air Resources Board to develop zero emissions fuel cell electric yard trucks, which yield the highest emissions of all port operating equipment and represent one of the greatest challenges toward decarbonizing port operations given their size, drive cycles and other factors.[7]

In Illinois, downstate distribution utility Ameren Illinois filed its proposed Beneficial Electrification Plan pursuant to state mandates, which includes proposed funding and utility support for forklift electrification.

In New York and New Jersey, funds thru the Regional GreenHouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust will enable further reduction of carbon emissions, operational efficiency, and improving air quality.

At the utility regulatory level, there is increasing support for studying the environmental impacts of ports through utility integrated distribution plans and electrification dockets. In New Jersey, environmental intervenors requested that the incumbent utility include in its Distribution Grid Impact Study load studies, market readiness and potential for electrification at ports, among other things.[8]

In Ohio, the Port of Cleveland (the Port) is preparing for decarbonization in a variety of ways. While the Port does not yet have its own climate action plan or electrification plan, which are key initiatives expected to be developed as part of its upcoming Strategic Plan, the Port has undertaken efforts to become decarbonization ready, which includes plans for electrifying certain operations.

Completed in 2021, and with support of CMAQ grant funds, which aimed at reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality, the Port  modernized its bulk terminal capabilities by extending its bulk terminal conveyance tunnel by several hundred feet in an effort to reduce diesel carbon emissions from related operations. The Port also introduced plug-in electrical connections to portable conveyors. In doing so, the project further enables greater capacity capabilities now and in the future, while contributing to decarbonization efforts.

In addition, the Port has plans to modernize and ready Warehouse A at its general cargo terminal where the warehouse will serve as the terminal’s central distribution hub to power the terminal’s docks, some of which have already been outfitted with the necessary utility duct banks, the switching locomotive, and port cargo handling equipment. This plan builds upon recently completed and ongoing targeted investments made at the terminal’s main gate and at docks 24 and 26 that were intentionally designed and constructed to seamlessly integrate with a fully decarbonized and electrified marine terminal with an integrated communications network that moves cargo and drayage carriers efficiently through the terminal.

Related to its development finance line of business, the Port helped finance project Icebreaker, a six-turbine wind energy project in Lake Erie, making the project the first fresh water offshore wind project in the United States. The Port has also previously worked with local partners like Great Lakes Towing to secure grant funding to repower a portion of their tugs through Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (“DERA”) funding.

The Port is aware of the challenges it faces in preparing for and enabling its decarbonization efforts, such as estimating grid capacity with not one but two distribution providers, which it shares with Cleveland Public Power and First Energy. In addition, the Port must also forecast future capacity needs, plan for the continued diversification of cargo, and allocate space within the terminal for the continued growth of the Great Lakes cruise industry. As the Port continues advancing decarbonization efforts it will be important to ensure vessels, our terminal operators, and drayage service providers will be in a position to adapt and interface with the marine terminal. And like most Ports, Cleveland faces funding challenges.

Challenges aside, the Port of Cleveland sees decarbonization and electrification as an opportunity to enable local environmental and economic improvement not only thru its day-to-day operations but thru its other lines of business.

Port electrification requires developing policies and partnerships with local governments, state agencies, and local utility service providers, all of which can enhance mutually beneficial goals around economic development, environmental stewardship, and distribution grid management.

Thus, enabling ports as better economic and environmental stewards in the communities they serve requires policies supporting broad port decarbonization and electrification. Such policies can vary widely depending upon a host of factors, including but not limited to jurisdiction, local and regional political climates, geographical location, and constraints, whether a port is located inland or seaside, port operations and lines of business. For instance, jurisdictions with low, no, or net carbon emission mitigation goals can complement port decarbonization, climate action and electrification plans.

In addition, utility electrification programs that address transportation decarbonization for modes beyond traditional LDV, which can also include dynamic rate design, managed charging, V2G innovation, demand charge relief, line extension credits and pilot or demonstration projects enhance not only port efforts to deploy a variety of alternative fuel sources but also assist utilities reach enterprise wide ESG, climate, grid resilience and grid management goals

While it may go without saying, creating supportive partnerships by and between ports, its vendors, lessees, contractors, local community organizations and other actors in the transportation ecosystem enable greater access to research, development, funding and deploying specific projects around decarbonization and electrification.

Our nation’s ports serve as important and vital economic engines for local communities and influence our larger global competitiveness. Through appropriate funding, policies and partnerships, port electrification enhances the quality of life for all Americans. As both economic and environmental stewards, ports pursuing electrification better enhance the quality of life for all Americans. The next five years will be critical to developing port infrastructure planning and upgrades for the betterment of all.




[4] See generally,