By Dan Birkett
When the Queen Mary 2 steams into town no one in Red Hook, Brooklyn can miss the 150,000 ton, 17-deck vessel towering over the low slung skyline. Modern cruise ships like Her Royal Majesty’s are essentially behemoth floating resorts, equipped with multiple swimming pools, dozens of restaurants, theaters, casinos and more. But to keep a floating resort up and running requires a floating power plant that’s up to the challenge. And it’s no small task. The electrical demand is equivalent to powering about 10,000 homes. These onboard power plants are typically fired with what’s known as bunker fuel, a heavily polluting petroleum product that is literally the bottom of the barrel residue from the refinery process. It’s so heavy that it is solid at room temperature and must be preheated before it can flow to the engines.
More and more these ships are calling on New York. The number of passengers disembarking from one of the area’s three terminals (in Hell’s Kitchen, at pier 12 in Red Hook, or across the harbor in Bayonne, NJ) has increased nearly 30 percent since 2008. With this growth comes increasing urgency to mitigate the air quality impacts. The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook is now poised to become the first on the East Coast to provide a reprieve for residents adjacent to the docks. A breakthrough of sorts occurred last Thursday when the Port Authority Board of Commissioners authorized a deal that includes additional funding from Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) to cover cost overruns. ESDC joins a growing list of agencies that are partnering with the Port Authority to bring this project to life, including EPA, which chipped in $2.9 million in federal money. For now proponents of the project can breathe a sigh of relief. Come 2014, when the first ship is scheduled to plug in, those breaths may well be a lot healthier.
About the author: Dan Birkett is an environmental scientist with EPA’s Region 2. He works on EPA’s clean diesel program in the Region’s New York City office.