Chinese backers of a proposed major natural gas-fed methanol plant along the Columbia River in Washington state are undaunted in their plans to build the project, despite learning earlier this month that state regulators want another year to complete added environmental studies of the five-year-old project.

The Washington State Department of Ecology determined that filings by Cowlitz County and Northwest Innovation Works LLC (NWIW) were "insufficient" and need additional environmental review that typically takes another year to complete. They have promised to finish the supplemental environmental work as quickly as possible.

"What was submitted does not meet the threshold set by a state Shoreline Hearing Board ruling and upheld by a Superior Court in Cowlitz County," DE officials said last Friday, pointing out that the hearing board and court rulings found the project's environmental impact statement (EIS) was "inadequate” and required “a complete and sufficient analysis of the project's greenhouse gas (GHG) emission impacts."

As a result, NWIW needs to complete a supplemental EIS, which adds more time to a prolonged permitting process that began five years ago with the launch of the project's environmental review. NWIW Chief Development Officer Vee Godley said the proponents have been "open and transparent, seeking input and feedback," adapting the project over the years whenever possible.

Godley said the state lacks a policy for regulating GHG emissions, so NWIW is "helping guide" Washington to what he called "a lower carbon future where emissions are properly accounted for and mitigated." The latest state decision had dealt the Cowlitz County community another delay in its efforts to grow the economy and create local jobs, Godley said.

"Every year that this project is delayed results in another 10 to 12 million tons of GHG emissions that would otherwise be removed from the global inventory," said Godley, adding that opponents of the project tried to turn the last local election into what he characterized as "a referendum on our facility, and voters overwhelmingly elected candidates who support our project."

NWIW officials argue that they have learned a lot in recent years to assure them that the proposed $1.8 billion methanol production plant at Kalama, WA, will reduce global GHG emissions.

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.

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.

Originally proposing a trio of plants in the region, the number was reduced to two in 2016 when NWIW in response to public concerns stopped the City of Tacoma's environmental review for its proposed methanol production plant and export facility.

At the time the company narrowed its portfolio to two production facilities, it made clear Port Kalama was the leading project and it praised the jointly released draft environmental review by the Port of Kalama and Cowlitz County, the lead agencies under the state environmental policy act process, which outlined steps for NWIW and local authorities to take to ensure construction and operational safety.