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Port of Virginia goes all in on renewable energy sources to fulfill green supply-chain demand, CEO says

The Mediterranean Shipping Co. ship MSC Meline, front, is in the process of being loaded at the Virginia International Gateway Marine terminal in 2021 in Portsmouth. The Virginia Port Authority is in the process of turning its operations carbon-neutral by 2040 by using clean energy and moving away from fossil fuel-powered equipment.

Posted on May 3, 2023

Bye-bye, fossil fuels. Hello, renewable energy.

At the behest of its suppliers and customers, the Virginia Port Authority is pushing ahead on a plan to go fully carbon-neutral by 2040. That means the group will purchase all of its power used for Virginia port operations from renewable energy sources and will eliminate the use of diesel fuel from trucks and other equipment.

At the annual State of the Port event Thursday in Virginia Beach, Port Authority CEO and Executive Director Stephen Edwards said port suppliers and customers were asking the same question: “How do we take carbon out of the supply chain?”

“It’s a massive and exciting challenge,” Edwards said.

Currently, around 69% of the port’s electricity consumption comes from clean energy. At current projections, the port authority plans to have 100% of its electricity come from clean energy by 2024, when the 127-megawatt Bookers Mill solar farm in Richmond County comes online.

The Virginia Port Authority is already moving faster to eliminate carbon emissions than its original commitments.

At the same time it’s moving toward clean electricity, the authority is also working to move away from diesel-powered equipment to electricor hydrogen power.

Which fuel type the port ultimately ends up using for its equipment remains to be seen, Edwards said. The port is just now beginning to test electric vehicles, and plans to start testing hydrogen-fueled vehicles in the future. Once a clear winner emerges, the port will then invest in those vehicles, he said.

Hampton Roads development organizations are already looking into hydrogen as a potential clean fuel source and economic force, working to establishing a $6.5 million hydrogen fuel program with several transition projects, a demonstration and education site and a workforce training program.

A transition to clean power is a competitive advantage of sorts for the port, Edwards said, because so many suppliers and customers doing business with the entity are asking about sustainability measures.

“In every sales meeting or marketing meeting with a prospect, it’s the first or second question,” he said.

The port is making progress on its carbon-neutral goals, and is even beating the timeline set by its initial carbon-reduction commitments, Edwards said during the speech. Since 2017, the port has reduced its carbon emissions by 58% and its fossil fuel consumption by 53%. In 2022, 30% of the port’s equipment was electric and another 21% was hybrid.

In the 2022 fiscal year, which ran from July 2021 to June 2022, the port moved a record-breaking equivalent capacity of almost 3.7 million 20-foot-long containers, an almost 15% increase from the previous fiscal year.

The port authority is also spending $1.4 billion to deepen port channels to at least 55 feet, modernize the north berth at Norfolk International Terminals and increase its rail capacity by more than 35%.



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