BRADENTON -- The future of U.S. seaports is written in the nation's energy policy, which means all of them -- including Port Manatee -- must look for more efficient fuels and cut emissions.
This is the thought roughly 35 attendees of this week's Southeast Region Propeller Clubs annual conference took away from the keynote address Thursday night in Bradenton. The clubs, which promote ports with education programs and public outreach, chose the theme "Ports, Air and Energy" as President Barak Obama's administration pushes new energy rules designed to curb global warming and reduce national dependence on fossil fuels.
Ports, in particular, will have to adjust, said Ray Butts, director of environmental services for Florida Power & Light. Butts said the electric power generation industry will be required to conform to a raft of new laws governing emissions and clean and renewable energy and ports won't be far behind.
"Climate change, once it starts rolling, will start to affect other industries," he said.
Pointing to FPL parent company NextEra Energy as an example, Butts said the nuclear- and renewable-heavy company is closing many oil-fired generation plants to meet federal standards. It demolished a number of coal plants and replaced them with natural gas-fired plants.
The change dropped company greenhouse gas emissions, he said. Oil consumption has dropped as well from 40 million gallons in 2001 to just 1 million last year.
On a smaller scale, Butts said ports and their shipping partners will also have to reduce energy use and emissions. Ports in California are already working on a goal of electrifying 80 percent of operations by 2020, he said. Those ports are also switching land vehicles and harbor craft to low-sulfur diesel fuel and natural gas.
Other rules will require shipping lines to put emissions controls on diesel engines running most of the world's shipping fleet. In some places, those ships will not be allowed to emit any fumes while in port.
Port Manatee has made some moves in the direction of the federal rules. Two new diesel-powered locomotive engines that move cargo at the port are using 60 percent less fuel than their predecessors. They are designed to emit 80 percent less of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.
Meeting other green goals at the port will take time, money and cooperation from customers and shippers. Executive Director Carlos Buqueras of the Port of Manatee said all new air and energy regulations give him pause, especially since the ships and trucks that service cargo at the port use the most energy and create the most pollution.
Still, the port will do its part, especially where it stands to save money, he said. During its 2013 fiscal year, Port Manatee paid a total of $675,000 for FPL electrical service. Buqueras said the port wants to reduce that amount and FPL energy auditors arrived this week to assist port personnel in finding ways to cut electricity usage.
The port may look at solar energy as one way to cut dependency on FPL. On the customer end, building a liquid natural gas fueling station for tractor trailers could cut emissions on and off port property.
Another possibility at the port is providing shore-based electric power to ships that otherwise run diesel generators to produce their own electricity. However, that won't likely happen unless the port regains the cruise ship business it once had, Buqueras said.
As the rules take effect, the 88-year-old international Propeller Club organization will adjust. Mary LeVine, president of the Propeller Club of Port Manatee, said her group is looking to work with Port Tampa Bay's club to introduce middle and high school students to maritime careers options.
Sharon Graham, a Bradenton club member, said the world needs ports to grow. She hopes to see products that pass through the port shipped to all corners of the globe one day.
"How much would that mean for our economy?" she asked.