Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tacoma Commission Approves Conversion Plant Lease

By Mark Edward Nero

The Port of Tacoma Commission on May 1 unanimously approved a 30-year lease with Northwest Innovation Works Tacoma for a planned $1.8 billion plant that would convert natural gas to methanol, a colorless, biodegradable liquid that evaporates in air.

The plant would sit on a 90-acre site that once was home to a Kaiser Aluminum smelter between the Hylebos and Blair waterways. The port bought the property in 2003 with the intent of remediating it and returning it to productive use.

Under the agreement, Northwest Innovation would lease about 90 acres site and have non-exclusive use of the port’s East Blair 1 wharf and 16 acres associated with the wharf. The lease also includes an 18-to-24-month period for feasibility studies, a three-year construction period and a 25-year operations period, as well as an option for a 25-year extension.

Production is scheduled to begin in 2019.

“Natural gas will arrive at the site via pipeline and then it will depart by export by vessel to Asia” via the port’s East Blair Terminal, Lou Paulsen, the port’s director of strategic operations and risk management told the Commission during the meeting.

The plant would employ about 1,000 workers during construction and 200 workers when in full production, according to the port.

When operational, the plant would ship methanol to Asian countries for use in the production of olefin, a key compound in the manufacture of a wide range of products, including seat cushion, carpets and cellular phones.

Although some area residents testified before the commission that they were concerned about possible environmental pollution resulting from the project, Northwest Innovations President Joe Smith said the plant would be outfitted with the most contemporary pollution control measures available.