PANAMA CITY, Fla. – A new crane, a modified crane and a refrigerated container holding area at the Port of Panama City will give the city the ability to offload larger cargo ships and compete with ports across the state and the Southeast, thanks to a partnership with Gulf Power. The cranes are the only one of its kind in the state that uses an external power supply and capable of saving the Port about 5 percent on fuel costs annually.
The new all-electric cranes were put into service late last year and are the latest improvement at the port, while the new electric holding areas will allow for more refrigerated cargo to be accepted at the Panama City port. Both will help increase the port’s cargo-handling capabilities, an integral part of the Port Authority’s plan to increase container trade threefold.
“This port has never had a new crane before,” said Port Director Wayne Stubbs. “We’ve had three cranes up until now but none of them have been new. The new equipment is capable of growing with the port and will likely service the facility for decades to come.”
When officials at the port decided they wanted to purchase a new heavy-duty harbor crane to offload cargo from larger transport ships, engineers at Gulf Power knew they would be instrumental in providing not only technical research information but the energy solution as well to handle the increased power requirements to make it all possible.
“We knew we would have to build an electrical infrastructure that could handle the increased load requirements necessary,” said Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson. “But we also needed to learn about emerging electric-crane technology first to be able to convince them that electric was the way to go.”
Port Panama City received a $2.2 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation in 2013 for infrastructure improvements as part of the FDOT Seaport Investment Program. The decision was made to purchase a harbor crane through a 50-50 matching grant, meaning the state puts up half the cost and the port puts up the other half.
The grant also included funds to add electrical capacity to the dock to support the crane’s operations.
“Once we found out they were looking for an additional crane, we immediately began talking with port officials on all the benefits of an all-electric crane compared to the standard diesel cranes available,” DelaHaya said. “We also enlisted the help from our Southern Company counterparts who have assisted with electric cranes at ports across the Southeast, and even a retired vice president of a major crane manufacturer. Armed with all this information, we were able to convince them that the electric crane was the best option.”
In 2014 the Port purchased a 100-ton Gottwald all-electric mobile harbor crane for $4.4 million, making it the most expensive piece of handling equipment the port has ever owned. The 200-foot tall crane has the capability to lift 30-ton containers off larger cargo ships and place them at the port for shipment by trucks to businesses throughout the country.
“This was a great investment for the port,” said DelaHaya. “We showed officials some of the benefits of using electro-technology, including maintenance and energy costs, and environmental impacts.”
According to port officials, the new system offers significant cost savings and environmental benefits. The port will save an estimated 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year, reducing the port’s fuel demand, and reduce carbon emissions from the cranes by 90 percent. The electric cranes also are more reliable than diesel-powered versions, with less downtime and reduced maintenance costs.
“Maintenance-wise it’s so much easier and more efficient to run off electricity,” said Mike Sowell, who oversees Cranes & Special Projects for the port. “I’m so pleased with it. It’s so much more efficient because of the power that is there. The voltage is rock steady. It’s cheaper to run instead of using the generator; it’s more productive and it’s faster. It’s an awesome thing.”
The port unveiled its first electric crane in the summer of 2016, and made the decision to retrofit a second crane from diesel to electric powered. It was recently commissioned to begin operating late last year.
As an economic engine for the great Northwest Florida region, the Port of Panama City is also continuing to invest in infrastructure improvements and facilities. As cargo moves through the port, it brings a $1.4 billion economic value, with an expected 1.85 million tons of cargo handled this year, according to a recent study completed by Martin Associates.
Hoping to build on those numbers, the Port of Panama City is ramping up its refrigerated cargo capacity after Gulf Power engineers highlighted the ability to install electric “refer plugs” or outlets that shipping containers could be plugged into to keep refrigerated produce and other perishables cold.
According to Sowell, the port is receiving more refrigerated agricultural products from Mexico, the Caribbean and South America due to the year-long growing season. The port regularly receives produce shipments of cucumbers, bell peppers and watermelons among other items, which require continuous refrigeration.
The port now has 150 electric reefer plugs that became operational in November so when refrigerated cargo containers are unloaded they are placed in refrigerated container racks and connected to what amounts to a large outlet plug. Seven racks can handle 16 cargo containers each and keep produce and other perishables cold until trucks ship them to stores.
“Before, every time a ship came in, you had to have all these trucks to come transport the produce,” Sowell said. “Now we have a cushion with these electric racks.”
Sowell also said the port authority appreciates the partnership with Gulf Power and all the hard work being accomplished to help their facility operate more efficiently and increase the productivity and capacity of the port in environmentally responsible ways.
“Gulf Power has always been very good to us,” said Sowell. “We appreciate the work and technology they have provided that will help Port Panama City revolutionize container handling.”