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Scaled-Back Northwest Methanol Plants Moving Ahead

After dropping one of three proposed multi-billion-dollar methanol production facilities in the Pacific Northwest, a China-based consortium is pressing ahead through a challenging permitting thicket, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) dropped plans last year for the largest facility planned at the Port of Tacoma, WA, to turn vast quantities of natural gas into methanol. However, plans remain on track for two separate $1.8 billion facilities, one at Port Kalama in Washington along the Columbia River and another at Port of St. Helens at Port Westward on the Oregon side.

For the Port Kalama project, a final environmental impact statement (EIS) has been issued, the required 401 Water Quality Certification is complete and a shoreline conditional use permit has been submitted, officials said.

 According to the Washington environmental review, NWIW and the port are jointly proposing to build the methanol manufacturing and marine export facilities.

Last month NWIW officials were able to get a shoreline permit hearing officer to correct the record regarding the proposed plant's estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are significant, but not "the state's largest," as a state official had earlier said.

NWIW President Vee Godley has acknowledged that the proposed plant would impact GHG emissions in Washington, but he said the state ecology department has identified at least nine existing facilities in the state that emit "substantially greater" emissions.

"NWIW is making significant investments to protect our global environment, including the use of advanced technology to reduce global GHGs," Godley told state officials last month.

He reiterated that NWIW would use "cutting-edge technology to dramatically reduce" air emissions and wastewater discharges into the Columbia.

"The plant is proposed to be a zero liquid discharge to the Columbia," said a Washington ecology department spokesperson.

The timing of local and state reviews for the similar sized project at Port St. Helens continues to lag behind the Port of Kalama project schedule.

NWIW was created by China-based Clean Energy Commercialization Co., partnering with units of Double Green Bridge, the Chinese Academy of Science Holding Co. and private investors in H&Q Asia Pacific. NWIW is owned by China’s Shanghai Bi Ke Clean Technology Co. Ltd.

Since the shale gas boom kicked into high gear five years ago, there has been a surge of interest in global companies siting chemical plants, including methanol production facilities, back in the United States.

Last year, NWIW selected as lead contractor Technip USA Inc. to support development of the Port of Kalama plant, projecting a three-year construction period beginning this year. Technip is overseeing construction of the facilities, which would create up to 1,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent positions. Port of Kalama approved a lease agreement for NWIW in April 2014.

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