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Clatskanie facility would create hundreds of jobs; exec claims plant would use 3,600 gpm of water

It could be a few years before any major developments take place on a proposed methanol plant at Port Westward in Clatskanie.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Vee Godley, (right) of NW Innovation Works, provides an update to Port of St. Helens commissioners Wednesday morning. NW Innovation Works is proposing a methanol plant at Port Westward. Northwest Innovation Works LLC, the international company planning the $1.8 billion large-scale production plant, signed a lease option agreement with the Port of St. Helens in 2014.

Since then, the company moved its headquarters to Kalama, Wash., where it anticipates to start construction on a methanol plant there in late 2016. The company also pulled the plug on a proposed plant at the Port of Tacoma amid heavy public protest over the project’s environmental impacts.

Murray “Vee” Godley, president of NW Innovation Works, presented updated plans for the Port Westward project to Port of St. Helens commissioners, staff and members of the public Wednesday morning.

Godley said his company looked to the Pacific Northwest when considering sites for new methanol production because of the region’s established supply chain for natural gas.

Natural gas is a key component in the company’s production of methanol, often called wood alcohol or Methyl-alcohol, which converts gas to an alcohol that becomes olefins.

Olefins, in turn, usually become plastics and other materials commonly used in the wood and cosmetics industry, Godley said.

According to plans for the Port Westward site, natural gas would be piped in underground and converted to methanol, which would then get shipped to Asia. The company expects to produce 200,000 tons of methanol daily, which will require up to 250 megawatts of power and 3,610 gallons of water per minute, which would be sourced from the Columbia River. An estimated 81 percent of that water would return to the local environment via evaporation, with another 13 percent being cleaned and returned to the river, according to company.

NW Innovation Works will rely on a combination of purchased wind energy and conventional energy to fuel its plant.

The process would also produce greenhouse gases, along with “smaller amounts of criteria and toxic air pollutants.”

“Yes, there are still emissions,” Godley said. “We still burn gas, but they’re transitional emissions.”

Godley said once the project has all the approvals needed to move forward, it will have substantial impacts on the county’s economy.

An economic report for the company’s Kalama site projects up to 1,000 jobs during construction, with up to 200 full-time permanent jobs.

“We want to reverse the tide of exporting American jobs to overseas manufacturing,” Godley told his audience. “We want to produce living-wage jobs here in Oregon.”

One of the biggest hold-ups for the company at the Port Westward site has been Portland General Electric, the site’s largest and oldest tenant.

PGE has expressed concerns about pollution from the methanol plant.

“From our conversations with PGE, they’re not concerned about the easements, they’re concerned about the air shed,” Paula Miranda, deputy executive director of the port, told commissioners Wednesday.

The company is currently paying PGE to conduct an air shed study to determine potential pollution impacts to PGE from the plant. The study is expected to be finalized within the next two months.

PGE isn’t the only one with concerns about the project’s impacts.

In Cowlitz County, the region’s cemetery district filed official opposition to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of a 24-inch natural gas pipeline for NW Innovation Works’ Kalama project, saying the proposed pipeline cuts through a private cemetery.

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