Connecting the World: EC Electric modernizes Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 infrastructure

By Claire Swedberg | Apr 14, 2023
EC2304_PortSeattle-Featured_New Primary Ductbank Comm_MV_7
Port of Seattle Terminal 5 has been modernized and expanded to accommodate the ever-larger container vessels sailing into and out of the Pacific Northwest.




Port of Seattle Terminal 5 has been modernized and expanded to accommodate the ever-larger container vessels sailing into and out of the Pacific Northwest. Beyond cargo import, opening Terminal 5 will also help increase opportunities for agriculture exporters from other parts of the country to move their goods to overseas markets.

International commerce and marine cargo vessels traveling the transpacific route into North America’s west coast have been growing. A renovated Terminal 5 accommodates big ships and provides power while at port, eliminating the need to run diesel generators.

The modernization program was led by the port commissions of Seattle and Tacoma to meet the needs of giant container ships. Project goals included providing power that helps reduce the carbon impact of idling vessels. 

The terminal includes 185 acres of capacity for cargo, and the Northwest Seaport Alliance has opened the space for operation by SSA Marine. Phase 2 includes expansion of the south berth, which will be completed later in 2023. The result will be a deep berth, a rail yard, heavier cranes with a longer reach and power to ships in port.

For electrical contractor EC Electric, Renton, Wash., this was a roughly $30 million project divided into two phases. Work started in 2019, and Orion Marine Group, based in Houston with an office in Tacoma, Wash., served as general contractor. EC Electric is completing the second phase of the multiyear project.

“Phase 1 was roughly 70% of the scope on the north end of the terminal, and Phase 2, focusing on the south end, was the remaining 30%,” said Cheyne Lee, senior project manager at EC Electric.

EC Electric implemented its building information modeling services and 3D scanning to understand the site better visually without interrupting the existing service. These techniques also helped with prefabrication of electrical infrastructure systems, including cable trays and duct banks.

The new Super Post-Panamax container gantry cranes required greater electrical power than previous cranes, so EC upgraded the power feed from 5 megawatts (MW) to 25 MW. The four new cranes have the capacity to load and unload container ships that carry as many as 18,000 containers. Each crane stands 316 feet tall with a 240-foot outreach boom and can lift 100 tons of cargo. To enable cranes of this size to operate, the dock had to be upgraded with new beams, pilings, deck panels and crane rails. The waterside crane rail alone required 178 concrete piles for resupporting the construction.

Phase 1 included demolition and reconstruction of the north section of the dock, which Orion completed, and EC installed the new electrical infrastructure. EC and Orion also demolished an existing longshoreman break room building and removed the old high-mast light poles along the wharf’s edge to make room for new ones.

EC and Orion also constructed a new switchyard for Seattle City Light (SCL) to link existing service from the old main substation to the new primary one, which also provides service for the new terminal’s increased power requirements.

Five new substations

EC Electric installed a total of five substations for the entire terminal to provide power to the cranes, lighting and docked vessels. For Phase 1, Orion built the new primary substation building where EC installed the new switchgear that powers existing loads, cranes and shore power to vessels. The 12.47-kilovolt (kV) primary substation is a double-ended, main, tie, main switchgear line-up, with two USERC SCL metering sections for the two incoming services. EC also provided a 12.47-kV north crane substation and 6.6-kV north shore substation as part of the Phase 1 work. In Phase 2, EC is further installing a 12.47-kV south crane substation and 6.6-kV south shore substation.

The new primary substation refeeds the main one for all existing buildings, loads and other existing substations on the terminal. The 12.47-kV crane substations feed power to container loading cranes and 480V circuits for the light poles.

With substations in place, EC installed all the infrastructure to manage the new power, including vaults installed by Orion, duct banks and grounding grid. SCL installed their own cables and equipment.

Under-wharf conduit was also installed to connect the crane and shore substation buildings to the outer edge of the pier. 

To accommodate this environment, Lee said, “We ran new duct banks from the substation to the pier structure and then had to transition to fiberglass conduit running under the structure to the shore,” as well as to crane boxes located on the wharf’s edge.

Lighting poles 100 feet high

EC Electric installs one of twelve 100-foot, high-mast light poles during Phase 1.

The renovated terminal also included the latest, state-of-the-art lighting systems to illuminate operations. As part of this contract, EC Electric installed twelve 100-foot, high-mast light poles with 10 individual LED lighting fixtures on each pole; the company also built in the lowering technology that will help port operators minimize light maintenance costs in the future.

The light pole installations were also evenly divided between the two phases. For both phases, EC installed Cimcon Lighting Solutions’ controls that enable monitoring and managing of each fixture.

In addition to installing the power monitoring and connectivity to the lighting controls, EC performed additional low-­voltage work under a different contract with Tideworks, which manages telecommunications for SSA.

“Under that contract, we installed the fiber backbone between their offices and the new container-loading cranes on the terminal,” Lee said.

That installation required unique planning and innovation to ensure reliable data connectivity. 

“In addition to installing the fiber backbone, we assisted crane maintenance in troubleshooting and fixing fiber connections on the cranes,” he said. 

Redundancy for always-on power

The project was designed to provide redundancy for the essential activities at the port terminal. While the original Terminal 5 was fed by one service, the new version doubles that support with two services in case one goes down. This increases capacity on the terminal and boosts reliability.

If wind storms or power outage events affect the area or if one service requires maintenance, the port can cut over to the other feed to maintain uninterrupted operations.

During construction, EC installed the infrastructure for the second SCL service. The expanded terminal also has 140 total electrical vaults—90 vaults installed in Phase 1 and 50 in Phase 2. The largest—under the primary substation—is 90 feet long by 30 feet wide and 10 feet high.

Vessel hookups for carbon neutral goals

A primary goal is to achieve carbon neutrality. When vessels arrive in the port, they rely on power traditionally drawn from onboard diesel generators. The resulting exhaust creates significant carbon emissions.

Many vessels built years ago can’t tie into shore power, but newer ones can. Now, when arriving at Terminal 5, ships with the capability can be connected to shore power over a cutover system that uses the port’s own energy, much of which comes from hydroelectric- and wind-based power sources. That connectivity is enabled by the new 6.6-kV north shore substation.

The primary substation viewed from a drone.

Altogether, EC Electric is installing hundreds of thousands of feet of conduit and wire. For example, duct banks for Phase 1 total 23,061 feet and conduit totals 159,451 feet. With Phase 2, EC installed duct banks at a total length of 7,135 feet, while total conduit installed in duct banks reached 34,232 feet. Cable for Phase 1 totaled 42,624 linear feet (127,872 total feet of wire). Phase 2 will be roughly 9,425 linear feet of cable (28,275 total feet of wire).

“It’s a big, very visible upgrade,” Lee said.

While Phase 2 of the “modernization program” is underway and expected to be completed in mid-2023, the north section is fully operational. Once Phase 2 is complete, there will be another shore and crane substation on the south end of the terminal.

There have been delays created by supply chain challenges and the build-out of the piling structure. There were complex requirements related to driving wood pilings with the ability to sustain seismic events such as earthquakes.

There also were environmental challenges. In the Pacific Northwest, migratory fish and other aquatic wildlife are protected against conditions related to port construction such as noise and disruption, so underwater work had to be performed when it was less likely to disturb sensitive species.

 construction workers
Under-wharf conduit connects the crane and shore substation buildings to the outer edge of the pier.

Subcontractors are at the mercy of such factors. Still, the team has worked together to complete the goal.

“It’s been a good working relationship between us, the general contractor and the port,” Lee said. “We worked really closely with the port engineers.”

Sometimes that relationship has included difficult discussions and compromises to ensure the project stayed on track. At times, EC identified potential issues in the specifications or design and recommended ways to work around them in advance.

“So we did a lot of proposing of modifications for a more robust installation to benefit longevity and ease of maintenance,” Lee said.

Safety was a priority throughout. 

“There were no recordable incidents on the project,” he said.

The project started before the pandemic, and because it was classified as essential work, workers followed strict COVID-19 guidelines, which meant working around any delays that restrictions or illnesses might have caused.

“We were adapting on the fly, being classified essential personnel, to ensure no work stoppages due to the pandemic,” he said.

It was all about collaboration. The construction teams held weekly meetings with the port to ensure communication and versatility in case of a problem or change.

“We’ve been in a highly collaborative mindset since day one,” Lee said.

Images courtesy of EC Electric

About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].





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