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Green Port: A Dream Gets Closer to Reality

Green Omni Terminal Could Radically Alter Port Operations

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor and James Preston Allen, Publisher
Photo by Linnea Stephan

Framed by the future of new technology and the backdrop of older gantry cranes, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti stood at a July 12 press conference at the Pasha Terminal in the Port of Los Angeles.

He was there to announce one of the boldest moves by the port in more than a decade: a game changing $24-million partnership that will build the first all-electric operated terminal at the port. It will almost eliminate all pollution from equipment used at this facility and will become the test model for future growth in the two harbor region, that is projected to double its traffic in the next decade

At Berth 54, Garcetti had a chance to try out the newest  addition to TransPower’s line of ElecTrucks, an Electric Class 8 truck, during a demonstration of the company’s zero-emission vehicles. The battery-powered big rig weighs between 20,000 and 22,000 pounds excluding the  weight of a fully loaded 20-foot trailer. The truck’s 300-kilowatt engine (the equivalent of 400 horsepower) can pull up to 60,000 pounds of freight for distances between 70 and 150 miles on a single charge.

Just minutes prior, with the cargo ship NC Soho being loaded with steel behind him, Garcetti highlighted dilemma that comes with business at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“All those ships, those trains, [the] cargo handling equipment [are] powered by diesel engines and as we all know, those diesel engines create air pollution in San Pedro and Wilmington and Long Beach and other communities along the 710 freeway,” Garcetti said. “It pushes that pollution all the way into the Inland Empire. It is the single largest source of particulate matter and it always has been in Southern California.”

Garcetti said that was an unacceptable price to pay for a bustling port before segueing into the alternative possibilities.

“We don’t have to choose between one or the other,” he said. “We can have healthy communities and we can have a healthy port.”

The best feature of the electric class 8 truck is that the battery can be recharged in the time it would take an iPhone 6 to recharge from zero to 100 percent.

The Electric Class 8 truck was the first of two electric vehicles that were showcased at Pasha Stevedoring terminal  as part of the announcement of phase one of the Green Omni-Terminal.

Next was TransPower’s 4×2 electric yard tractor, which only transports cargo containers within a terminal.

TransPower’s tractor is a little heavier, but  comparable in every way to the Ottawa 4×2 tractor trailer, except it has a couple of huge advantages: it’s electric and it has zero emissions, with  no carbon dioxide, and no particulate matter.

The July 12 demonstration was just a glimpse of the future of goods movement. Garcetti was sitting in the driver’s seat of a tractor trailer that represented the leading edge of his 2015 Sustainability Plan — one that sets targets for greenhouse gas reduction, improved air quality, green jobs and the ability of terminals to operate in the event of a natural disaster or the aftermath of terrorist attack.

But a couple weeks prior to this press conference, Jeff Burgin and his team showed Random Lengths how broadly and deeply these new green technologies will impact this nation’s, and perhaps this planet’s, future.

“The project was a concept three or four years ago,” Burgin explained at Pasha Terminal’s administrative office conference room. “The [Omni-Terminal] revolves around the [idea of] sustainability and being able to withstand a catastrophic event. It had nothing to do with cargo.”

That, Burgin explained, was how the project was born. The Green Omni-Terminal is a three-phase project, but only the first phase has really been touted so far. It features zero emission terminal equipment that runs on renewable energy.

“This is a Wright brothers’ moment We’re standing on the cliff with some wings strapped to our arms. We know we can fly, we’re just not sure how far.”
— Jeff Burgin, senior vice president of Pasha Stevedoring Terminal

The truly revolutionary possibilities of the Green Omni-Terminal are the second and third phases, which has national security implications in the event of natural disaster or terrorist attack.

“Let’s say there was a military action that required a terminal that was sustainable and the grid was knocked out,” Burgin began. “We would have abilities to run the cranes and assist the Defense Department for whatever they needed to do.”

Burgin said that the broad importance of making a terminal energy efficient, and perhaps energy independent, didn’t sink in until two years after Pasha and the port applied for the California Air Resource Board grant that ultimately helped finance this new technology. As the port and Pasha’s industry partners began to touch and look at this seed, the seed sprouted into “what-ifs.”

What if we were able design a facility [where] we can actually put solar panels up? What if we take the cranes and create energy from them? What if we create energy storage and become the test model to see if we can make forklifts and top handlers that can work off batteries? What if we create a battery operated machine that would work?” Burgin asked excitedly.

“Who is better suited to do this? Is it a law? Is it a mandate? Or is it business that should be doing this that understands the capacity of the equipment and brings people in that actually understood how this takes place?”

Burgin said an effort has to be made to connect young workers with the education needed to make the energy calculations for a battery.

The energetic face of Pasha Stevedoring noted that TransPower has been working on battery operated utility tractor rigs, top handlers and other transportation equipment.

“They have proven technology in this area and are now moving towards phase two and three in testing this technology,” Burgin said. “These past two years, Pasha has been testing their battery operated semi-trucks and [utility tractor rigs].”

Green Omni-Terminal: Phase II and III

Phase II of the Green Omni-Terminal’s build-out is about achieving full resiliency.

That is, if a catastrophic tsunami, a devastating terrorist attack or a huge magnitude earthquake take out Southern California’s electric grid, the terminals at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach could immediately bounce back because of the renewable energy technology in place. The focal point of Phase II is on backup power sources and storage.

“We’ll look at storage and how we store that energy,” Burgin explained. “With crane surges, whatever we’re picking up, the power amp goes sky high, but you create the energy when it comes down with the load. Imagine that on a scale or a graph. You need an o-meter to flat line that power, so we will have to come with the technology where we streamline that power so that there aren’t getting any spikes in the power. Not only that [we have to answer the question of] how do we store that power?”

Phase III is about terminal-wide expansion to the warehouses and administration buildings and efficiency upgrades.

“This is a Wright brothers’ moment,” said Burgin, using a line he has come to deploy quite frequently in recent months. “We’re standing on the cliff with some wings strapped to our arms. We know we can fly, we’re just not sure how far…. This project is going to change the way we operate the ports from a tactical point of view and from an operational point of view of machinery.”

Burgin likened the leaps in technology to the iPhone 6, though he stops short of suggesting that the Green Omni-Terminal technology will be as quickly adopted as the cell phone. He did note that Pasha has been getting calls from throughout the world about the work they’re doing.

The Green Omni-Terminal could begin to address more immediate issues such as the advent of automation from the grid and ships making port of call at the twin ports still have to shut down their engines and link up with an alternative maritime power system to comply with the Clean Air Action Plan.

Burgin noted that as ships begin to connect their ship to the grid, regular energy consumers could experience rolling blackouts.

“So we have to look at new technologies,” Burgin said.

Though Pasha is a family-owned company operated by three generations of Pashas, Burgin is as much the face of the company as any in the family. When confronted with the question of what Pasha Stevedoring gets out of becoming the testing ground for these new technologies, Burgin says it’s being done as part of Pasha’s identity as a good neighbor and community member.

“We are a privately held American company and we see things a little bit different than the International Carrier Group,” Burgin said. “This is our home and this is our community. We have an obligation to do certain things.

“Now maybe our obligation is not to spend a gazillion dollars and make any money. But this project is not going to turn around and make us money. What it will do if we can continue getting the grants is that we can become the proving ground for proven technologies like Teledyne or Northrop. We can be that for the waterfront in the maritime industry.”

Burgin said he didn’t buy into the Clean Truck Program when it first rolled out.

“I didn’t think it had anything valuable,” he said. ‘But at the end of the day I admitted I was wrong. I bit the apple because I truly believe it’s the right thing to do.’

Transparency, the Future

At the press conference, Burgin stood next to George Pasha IV, Garcetti, POLA Executive Director Gene Seroka, and California Air Resources Board representative Judy Mitchell, as they announced plans to turn the terminal into the port’s electric operation in the port.

Garcetti touted the plan as a forward-looking one that included the port having 15 percent of all goods movement trips being made with zero emission vehicles by 2025 and 25 percent by 2035.

This press conference was intended to be a demonstration of new renewable technologies in action, but it also seemed to be a demonstration of a new era of port transparency—something that hasn’t really existed since the port-community advisory was shut down a few years ago.

Garcetti also announced a 10-member advisory committee made up of representatives of CARB, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Pacific Merchant Shipping Organization, the San Pedro neighborhood councils and the ILWU, among unnamed others.

Seroka called for an expansion of the pathways to commercialization of the new technology, an issue that has inhibited the rollout of the Clean Trucks Program.

He then announced that the port is kicking off quarterly open house meetings for interested stakeholders to reflect a more transparency about the port’s latest environmental initiatives. He also noted that stakeholders would get to talk directly to Seroka and his staff about concerns.

Starting in August, the port is initiating monthly open door meetings for port community partners chaired by port staff.

Seroka also announced a new website to communicate what the port is doing on environmental efforts.

Civic and business leaders have been touting Green Omni-Terminal since CARB awarded a green technology grant to the POLA a couple of months ago. Even environmental justice activists have been saying, “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Omni-Terminal is great thing.”

But during the question-and-answer period, James Preston Allen, Random Lengths News publisher, asked about one lingering issue left out of the conference.

“Why would the port risk an ethics violation by hiring a contractor that was a former harbor commissioner?”  Allen asked Garcetti.

Allen was referring to former Harbor Commissioner Nicholas Tonsich, who is the principal of Clean Air Engineering-Maritime and who has close ties to Tri-Mer Corp. — two of Pasha Stevedoring Terminal’s vendors for Green Omni-Terminal. This question has been a refrain from various community activists in a number of Harbor Commission meetings and has still not been addressed directly.

“It is my understanding that each individual technology is procured directly by private terminals, not by the port,” the mayor replied. “That’s the critical distinction to make. If there is an accusation of anything that’s improper, whether it’s a former city commissioner or city employee, that complaint is handled by the city ethics commission but the compliance of that is usually when a government official makes a decision on procurement directly.”

The problem with the mayor’s reply is that all the documents this newspaper has obtained either directly or indirectly via public records act requests show that Chris Cannon the chief sustainability officer for POLA named Tonsich’s Clean Air Engineering-Maritime as one of several vendors in the port’s application for the CARB grant, even stating so in the cover letter to CARB on Sept. 24, 2015, which read:  “The Harbor Department has assembled a team of industry experts, technology providers and technical advisors to successfully develop and implement this project.”

Tonsich was the president of the Harbor Commission during the time the No Net Increase pledge was made under Mayor James Hahn—a pledge that laid the groundwork for the Clean Air Action Plan. Tonsich had been advised by the city attorney at the time that he had a “lifetime ban” from working in that industry at POLA.

The mayor’s response was the same as the Harbor Commission’s when it has been bought up during meetings these past few months. Until the city ethics commission answers the Tonsich question, the possibilities of the Green Omni-Terminal will be dimmed by the appearance of impropriety.

“We have convening powers to bring together people from various industries, to put together projects but we don’t necessarily “choose” the subcontractors the terminals do business with,” Seroka said.



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