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Methanol Firm Expecting Permits for Pacific Northwest Projects in 2019

Nearly five years into a push to expand in the Pacific Northwest, advocates continue wading through permitting challenges to build natural gas-fed methanol production plants along the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon.

Backers are now hoping to wrap up permitting by the end of 2019, with the aim of starting  construction in early 2020 and beginning production three years later.

Plans for twin gas-fueled methanol plants in the lower Columbia River region were originally unveiled in early 2014 with the expectation of exporting production to China by this year. One would be sited at Port Westward in Clatskanie, OR, and the other at the Port of Kalama in Kalama, WA.

Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW), which unveiled the original proposals, was created by China’s Clean Energy Commercialization Co., a partnership of BP plc and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, along with private equity investors H&Q Asia Pacific.

"We're in the final phases of the permitting process," an NWIW official told NGI on Monday, noting that the final environmental impact statement (EIS) is key to completing the process.

NWIW estimates that the permitting will all be in place by mid-2019, assuming that the supplemental EIS review is completed, allowing state regulators to move forward with potential permitting.

"Barring subsequent appeal, three years of construction would be started by January 2020," the official said.

The ambitious plans by the Chinese-based consortium to eventually build three plants in the Pacific Northwest hit permitting hurdles last year because of issues regarding the EIS for the Port of Kalama project, which two years ago was estimated to cost about $1.8 billion.

A $3.4 billion plant also was planned for the Port of Tacoma, WA, but environmental concerns led NWIW to give up its lease.

In September 2017, NWIW faced more challenges after the Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board issued a partial summary judgment for the proposed Kalama Methanol & Marine Export Facility, designed to carry methanol to Asian markets. The board said the projected greenhouse gas impacts noted in the EIS were inadequate and required further analysis.

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