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Major US Shipping Port Gets 100% Clean Energy, But It’s Complicated

Posted on January 8, 2024

The superbusy Port of Virginia is celebrating the achievement of 100% clean energy, helping to cement its self proclaimed title as “America’s Most Modern Gateway.” The milestone comes eight years ahead of schedule, which just goes to show that decarbonization is not such a tough nut to crack after all. That depends what you mean by “clean,” though.

100% Clean Energy For The Port Of Virginia

Seaports are notoriously dirty and difficult to decarbonize. The 100% clean energy milestone is a big step forward, though the Port Authority notes that it does not cover all the operations at the port. It only covers the electricity used for port operations, including heavy duty electric cargo-moving equipment.

Yard trucks and other diesel vehicles are still in use, though the Port Authority has plans to electrify those, too. Cleaning up the dirty, diesel-spewing semi trucks that come in and out of the facility is another big challenge, which the Port Authority is addressing through Virginia’s voluntary Green Operator program.

Trucks or not, the clean energy milestone levels up the Port Authority’s decarbonization efforts, from Scope 1 to Scope 2 emissions. Scope 1 basically refers to tailpipe emissions. Scope 2 is entirely different. It means that the electric equipment at the plant is cut free from emissions related to the power source.

How Did They Do It?

“Virginia is the first major US East Coast port to power its entire operation using 100 percent clean electricity,” said the Port Authority of Virginia’s CEO and ED, Stephen A. Edwards, in a press release last week. He was referring to the port’s fleet of 116 electric stacking cranes, four electric rail cranes and 27 electric ship-to-shore cranes among other items.

If you’re wondering about the use of that word “clean” in that press release, join the club. Back in the day there was “clean coal,” and now the natural gas is doubling down on its clean cred. Then there’s the Energy Department’s $7 billion Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs program, which includes a carve-out for natural gas as required by law. For that matter, clean is the first part of CleanTechnica, so there’s that.

The Port’s press release was a little vague on precisely what they mean by clean, though they did note that their energy milestone was achieved through “a Power Purchase Agreement [PPA] with Dominion Energy and a rider with Rappahannock Electric Cooperative.”

“The Power Purchase Agreement ensures the generation and allocation of enough clean energy to support all current and future operational megawatt requirements,” they explained.

There’s that word again! Dominion’s renewable energy transition is well under way, though it still has a fleet of nuclear, gas, and coal power plants under its belt. Rappahannock has also been dipping into renewables, but the bulk of its power generation comes from nuclear and gas.

Despite the mixed bag on the power producer side, it seems that solar energy has the starring role in the Port’s clean energy plan. Gas is apparently off the table but nuclear may play a role, as indicated by a report in Renewable Energy World.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to Dominion for clarification. In the meantime, let’s note that some of the solar power groundwork was laid last year, when the Port Authority nailed down a PPA that provides its Virginia Inland Port branch with access to electricity from solar farms in Virginia, through the Rappahannock co-op.

In a press release describing that deal, the Port Authority stated that it will “fulfill all of its electricity needs at its marine terminals from renewable resources, well ahead of the original 2032 ‘SCOPE 2’ deadline.”

No More Fossil Fuels For The Port of Virginia

If nuclear energy continues to play a role in the Port’s “clean energy” mix, that would be of a piece with Governor Glenn Youngkin’s plans for establishing Virginia as a hub for nuclear innovation. Be that as it may, Edwards, is focused like a laser on ditching fossil fuels.

“We have a clearly-stated goal of getting away from fossil fuel use and this is another important step forward,” he said in last week’s press release.

Twisting the knife a bit more, he added that the port “is a modern, world-class operation and we are overlaying it with a twenty-first century approach to sustainability. This move helps reduce our contribution to global climate change and will help make us a leader among our US East Coast peers in terms of environmental sustainability.”

Here Comes The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project

Offshore wind is also going to become a key part of the Port of Virginia’s decarbonization plans, and not just in terms of kicking fossil fuels to the curb. It also means jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

“The port is also investing $220 million in the development of the US East Coast’s first offshore wind logistics hub in Portsmouth at Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT),” the Port Authority noted in last week’s release.

“This project is supporting Dominion Energy’s Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project [CVOW], a 176-unit wind-turbine-energy farm off of Virginia Beach and the largest offshore wind project in America to date,” they added.

If that rings some bells, it should. CleanTechnica took note of the project last year, noting that state regulators “just stamped their seal of approval on a massive, Texas-sized offshore wind farm to the tune of 176 wind turbines totaling almost 2.6 gigawatts.”

In contrast to some headwinds for the US wind industry overall last year, the CVOW project seems to be sailing along. The project came across the CleanTechnica radar in 2020, when we noted that Dominion was testing just two offshore wind turbines before going large.

Last October the company reported that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management rendered a favorable Record of Decision. With that key milestone passed, construction of onshore facilities is the next big step.

As for Governor Youngkin, he took office two years ago with big plans for rolling back an ambitious clean energy plan supported by the previous administration. The 2023 elections seems to have put the kibosh on that. Democrats emerged from the fray with a majority in both houses of the state legislature, leaving Youngkin with nothing much to do during his final two years in office, except maybe run for President. Oh, wait…


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