OAKLAND -- The Port of Oakland celebrated a clean air milestone Friday with the completion of a power system that will allow vessels docked at berths to power up on electricity instead of diesel fuel.

The $70 million project is expected to eliminate 11 tons of diesel particulate and further improve air quality in West Oakland where prior studies have shown higher-than-average levels of asthma and cancer.

"This is not only a big step against greenhouse emissions and global warming ... this is a big step for a lot of little people," Mayor Jean Quan said. "The children in West Oakland are going to be able to breathe cleaner and fresher air."

 Jill Bornor-Brown explains how the substations work at Berth 32 in the Port of Oakland Trapac Terminal after a press conference to announce the completion
Jill Bornor-Brown explains how the substations work at Berth 32 in the Port of Oakland Trapac Terminal after a press conference to announce the completion of a four-year 60 million dollar project at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. The project includes installation of infrastructure that provides shore power to maritime tenants at 11 berths on six terminals to replace the vessel's diesel-fueled auxiliary engines which were their main source of power while at berth. By allowing the vessels to plug in rather than run their engines, the port hopes to meet state regulations aimed at reducing emissions for a healthier environment for the West Oakland neighborhoods surrounding the port. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

The massive container vessels that call on California ports burn diesel to maintain power while docked. The switch to electrical power was ordered several years ago by state air quality regulators.

Beginning in January, at least 50 percent of ships calling at California ports must shut down their engines and plug into the electrical grid while docked. The requirement jumps to 80 percent of port calls by 2020.

Oakland's port has been under extra scrutiny to reduce emissions both from ships and trucks that have spewed pollution into nearby neighborhoods.

Five years ago, the port committed to reducing diesel particulate emissions by 85 percent from 2005 levels. A recently concluded study found that emissions in 2012 had already been reduced 70 percent.


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West Oakland residents who have fought for cleaner emissions said they supported the electricity project but were still concerned about pollution generated by the port.

"It could be a lot cleaner," said former Port Commissioner Margaret Gordon, who co-founded the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project. "What we're trying to get to is zero emissions."

Oakland is the state's first port to complete its electricity project, thanks in part to grants from numerous agencies including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the California Air Resources Board and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.