Chinese-Backed Company Terminates Lease For Proposed Methanol Plant In Tacoma

Apr 19, 2016

Northwest Innovation Works, a company backed by an arm of the Chinese government, said in a statement that it's terminated its lease at the Port of Tacoma where the company had planned to build one of the world's largest methanol plants. 

The company said it's still pursuing a plan to build a smaller plant in Kalama on the Columbia River. 

Northwest Innovation said one reason it decided to end the lease was that the tideflats property, which is the former site of the Kaiser aluminum smelter, remains polluted.

"Only careful planning, additional research, and the right regulatory approach would allow the development of a heavy industrial use on such a site," the company said in its statement. "Developing that approach has taken longer than anticipated, and the process currently in place to resolve pending questions promises still to be a long one."

Northwest Innovation Works paused the environmental review process in February after unanticipated public opposition to its plan for the methanol plant.

The methanol plant proposal galvanized large numbers of Tacoma residents who showed up at public hearings that the city held earlier this year as part of the beginning stages of the environmental review process. People said they had many environmental concerns, for example regarding the kinds of air emissions the plant would release and the 10 million gallons of water that it would use every day. 

Tarika Powell of the environmental think tank Sightline Institute says she thinks vocal opposition to the plan from Tacoma residents led to the company canceling the project. 

 

“It’s been said that the Northwest is where fossil fuel projects go to die, and I think that’s because the Northwest is an area where people work very hard to inform themselves about what’s going on in their communities,” said Powell.

Not everyone, however,  was opposed to the project. Members of local building trades unions spoke up in favor, saying the city would benefit from the 260 permanent jobs the plant would generate and the 1,000 or so construction jobs it would temporarily create.

The Northwest Innovation Works project is just the latest in a string of energy-related projects to fail in recent weeks. Late last week, a company that wanted to build a liquefied natural gas facility in Warrenton, Oregon, said it was ending the project. In February, the Port of Longview quashed plans for an oil refinery and propane terminal there. Port leaders said they took that action because the company hadn’t demonstrated it had enough money, not because it was a fossil fuel project.