THE GREEN SIDE: Shaver Transportation: Rolling Down the River on New, Cleaner Engines

Founded in 1880, Shaver Transportation is a family-owned company that operates barges and tugs on the Columbia River and in Portland Harbor. Rob Rich, director of administration, has been with Shaver for 25 years. Here, he speaks about Shaver’s investment in projects that reduce air emissions from their operations.

What motivated Shaver to move to more efficient engines?
First and foremost, the price of fuel. Fuel had been relatively stable, and so were our prices. When fuel became extremely volatile around three years ago, the pricing structure couldn’t absorb the wide fluctuations. We resorted to fuel surcharges but needed to do more. Between the Oregon Business Energy Tax Credit program and the high cost of fuel, the payback of an engine repower could now be amortized over just a few years. Last but not least, we operate in the Willamette Valley and Columbia Gorge airsheds – two sensitive basins. We wanted to be ahead of the curve.

What kind of engines do the tugs have?
River tug engines are called medium duty marine diesels; they have operating lives of 25,000-30,000 hours, but the engines can be overhauled again and again – they’re very durable. The average boat operates around 5,500 hours a year.

Was the repower project expensive?
We replaced engines in four boats – as old as 1953 and as new as 1997 – with 2007-2009 Tier II engines. On two boats, the new engines fit the tug configuration, so the cost was $1.2 million each. For the other two tugs, we replaced the engine but also had to retrofit other major components to make everything fit. That cost $2 million per boat. We applied for three federal grants and received one – $100,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency. The BETC credits were worth over $350,000.

What fuel savings were realized?
Conventional tugs burn about 3,000 gallons of fuel daily. With the new engines, we have 11 percent more power but are only burning 2,100 gallons a day, a 34.2 percent reduction. We also reduced lube oil usage by 90 percent, from 250 gallons to 15 gallons on the round trip between Portland and Lewiston, Idaho.

Were there other benefits to the project?
Crew members live on these boats. With the new engines and investments in insulation, the boats are quieter and have significantly less vibration, so crew fatigue is reduced.

What’s next for Shaver?
We’re repowering the tug Portland, which was built in 1981 with a World War II-vintage engine in it. This tug works exclusively in Portland Harbor, so if we can reduce fuel and lube oil needs, it has an immediate air quality effect locally. Boats with the big hours: that’s where we want to invest our money.

We’re also using shoreside power at Terminal 6, which means tugs don’t have to idle their main or auxiliary engines. We have as many as four boats there plugged into the electrical grid. For the project, we had about a three-year payback – that’s pretty good. Our tugboats were driving back and forth or running continuously; now, they’re not, so the engines last longer, and we don’t use as much fuel. Our goal, ultimately, is to use our resources more efficiently, especially fossil fuels.