$3.4 Billion Methanol Plant Possibly Coming to Port of Tacoma

Northwest Innovation Works (NWIW) proposed the construction of a $3.4 billion gas-to-methanol pro­duction plant to replace the Kaiser Aluminum Smelter on the Blair Wa­terway. Methanol is a toxic, colorless, flammable liquid alcohol that is made by oxidizing methane.

If the proposition passes, the plant will be the third and largest of NWIW’s proposed plants within the Pacific Northwest. The other plants were pro­posed in the Port of Kalama and Port of St. Helen, in Kalama, WA and Co­lumbia City, OR.

The construction for the gas-to-methanol plant will begin as soon as 2017, with operation beginning in 2020. The plant would produce 20,000 tons of methanol through four produc­tion lines daily. The methanol would be transported by carrier ships to China, where it would be transformed to “olefins”—a plastic-like substance used in wallpaper, carpets, ropes, and vehicle interiors that is resistant to mil­dew, abrasions, sunlight, and staining. Some of these products will return to the United States, possibly through the Port of Tacoma.

To build the plant it will take a lot of electricity and water. NWIW officials told Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU) that the full production of the plant would require 400 megawatts of power, and 450 megawatts at its peak. According to the National Hydropower Associa­tion, 400 megawatts is equivalent to powering approximately 300,000 to 400,000 U.S. homes.

The plant would also use around 14.4 million gallons of water per day, which according to TPU could supply roughly 77,500 homes.

Tacoma Power’s customers used 543 megawatts on average in 2014, which is most of the city’s power supply.

In other words, it will take nearly as many megawatts to build the meth­anol plant as Tacoma Power users con­sumed in all of 2014. To compensate, TPU will have to purchase electricity from outside sources to supply NWIW with what it needs. This cost may go to TPU customers.

TPU Director Bill Gaines said al­though these costs may be dispersed evenly to customers; he recommends the new business pay for the increased costs.

NWIW signed a long term lease last year with the Port of Tacoma for the former Kaiser Aluminum Smelter property that has been out of business for more than 12 years. After the port bought the site they demolished the buildings and cleaned up the area.

Tacoma Port Commissioner, Con­nie Bacon, told The News Tribune she thinks it’s a worthy proposal that is great for jobs and the port’s finances.

According to NWIW spokesperson, Charla Skaggs, the $3.4 billion project will create 1,000 jobs during peak con­struction and 260 permanent jobs for workers in the region.

While building the plant would cre­ate additional jobs, it also raises hefty environmental concerns. Olefin man­ufacturers once produced methanol primarily from coal. Recently, manu­facturers have been transitioning to natural gas.

China is attempting to reduce its reliance on coal and the growing de­mand for olefin. In North America, natural gas is inexpensive and abun­dant. Skaggs says creating methanol at the port for export to China is an eco­nomically feasible process. Skaggs says, the plant will further reduce green­house gas emissions by using technol­ogy called “ultra-low emissions” or ULE.

Tacoma residents David Mueller and his wife shared with The News Tri­bune their concerns about the negative impacts the plant will have on Tacoma’s environment. The couple is worried that the plant would lead to additional water and air pollution.

A nonprofit group called Citizens for a Healthy Bay is closely observing the process of the plant as it proceeds. Executive Director of the organization, Melissa Malott, says the group is “neu­tral but concerned.”

Malott met with NWIW and is wait­ing on a complete and thorough plan for the plant’s water use.

For more information about the proposed methanol plant go to healthy­ or CHB’s Information Hub for Proposed Tacoma Methanol Plant Facebook page.