Clean tech ideal vs realities tested in Port of Los Angeles vote


The Los Angeles harbor commission declined to approve buying a natural gas compressor for the Port of LA on Thursday, Sept. 21, even though a zero-emissions model is not yet available for that equipment — underscoring the challenges transitioning to ZE equipment.

With only three of the five commission members present, the proposal failed when Commissioner Michael Muñoz voted against the $800,000 purchase. The other two commissioners present, President Lucille Roybal-Allard and Vice President Diane Middleton — voted to approve it. But because of the absence of Commissioners Ed Renwick and Lee Williams, there was no quorum and the item failed.

It could return to the five-member board when the other members are present.

The compressor was needed, port officials said, for harbor department operations and the purchase was put forward within a directive from Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass.

Muñoz, however, questioned the expense for a piece of equipment that will, “at some point,” not be needed as zero-emissions technology begins to become more available. He asked if it could be rented instead of investing in “dead technology.”

Daniel Hughes, assistant director of Construction and Maintenance, said that option was explored.

“We have about 92 (compressor) units in service dating back 10 years,” Hughes said, “and, unfortunately, for some of the bigger equipment (the compressors serve), the technology is not there just yet for all-electric.”

Compressed natural gas is used for larger maintenance trucks and utility vehicles, such as the ladder pick-up trucks, a board report said.

“The key component to the CNG system,” the report said, “is the compressor unit. The compressor unit’s purpose is to take low pressure utility service natural gas and compress, store and make it available for dispensing into vehicles.”

The compressor being replaced was designed and installed in 2012 and operates at Berth 161, according to the board report. It has needed minimal repairs in the past. But it “no longer functions at a reliable level due to the age and obsolescence of replacement parts,” the report said.

“The compressor is 11 years old and starting to fail,” Hughes told commissioners.

With regard to zero-emissions replacements for some of that larger equipment, he added, “our hands are tied on availability.”

If electric is not available, he said, “we move down to the next (option), which is compressed natural gas. We know it’s a fossil fuel, but I don’t think in the lifetime (of the failing compressor)” zero-emissions transitions will become fully available.

“Then we can transition when it’s available,” Hughs said.

Both the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are pushing to meet zero-emissions deadlines for terminal equipment by 2030 and the drayage truck fleet serving the ports by 2035. Among the challenges are the commercial availability of the new and still-emerging technology and the high costs for purchasing the equipment once it becomes widely available.

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