Officials: Plant would be worth almost $1B, with $800M expansion on deck

by: SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - The Port of St. Helens office in Columbia City. The port owns the Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie, where NW Innovation Works LLC is looking to build a plant to produce methanol from natural gas and export it to the Chinese city of Dalian.The Port of St. Helens landed a major investor at its Port Westward industrial park north of Clatskanie with the announcement this week that a company wants to sink almost $1 billion into a project to produce methanol for export.

NW Innovation Works LLC is requesting a lease option from the port for about 82 acres of land at Port Westward, as well as the use of a dock, for a planned manufacturing facility.

The facility, as described Tuesday, Jan. 21, by spokesman Greg Peden and company President Murray V. Godley III, will take natural gas from a pipeline and convert it to methanol — a chemical related to ethanol that has a range of industrial applications — for export to China.

“From the manufacturing process, it’s pipe-in, ship-out,” Godley said.

That means NW Innovation Works has no plans to freight in material by rail, company officials said.

“That’s the beauty of this project,” added Brian Little, a former St. Helens city administrator who is serving as a local representative for the development company.

The project rests heavily on Chinese investment. Dalian, a fast-growing industrial city in northeast China, is one of the partners in it, along with Hong Kong-based private equity firm H&Q Asia Pacific and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a national academy and think tank affiliated with the Chinese government in Beijing, Godley said. The energy company BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, is a fourth major investor behind NW Innovation Works, he added.

NW Innovation Works plans to employ about 120 full-time workers for the project, which will export methanol directly to the Dalian city government for use in plastics manufacturing, according to Peden.

“We expect this to be, you know, big news for the Columbia County community — certainly a significant job creator and economic driver,” Peden said. “And we expect to have a thorough public process so we can communicate to citizens the value of this project.”

The process is likely to span one to two years, according to Peden, as NW Innovation Works will need to get permits from the state to go ahead with construction. Construction is expected to take another two years. The best-case scenario company officials outlined Tuesday was for the methanol plant to be complete by late 2017 or early 2018.

Once the facility is built, Godley said, NW Innovation Works will likely move ahead with a second phase expected to cost an additional $800 million.

“At each site, you’re looking at a $1.8 billion potential,” Godley said.

Godley described NW Innovation Works as a good fit for Columbia County.

“We’re excited about the community. We’re excited about the number of jobs we’re going to be bringing to this community. We feel like this is the right project for this community,” said Godley. “We have zero rail impact. We have zero infrastructure impact, other than the standpoint that more people are going to be driving on the roads to come and go to work. And those are good things. That’s what we want to see. And with good wages.”

Chuck Daughtry, executive director of the Columbia County Economic Team, agreed.

“It just seems like it’s a perfect fit,” Daughtry said Wednesday.

The Port Westward plant is one of two planned facilities NW Innovation Works announced this week in the Pacific Northwest. The development company is also planning a methanol plant at the Port of Kalama in Washington.

The Port Westward lease option request was on the Port Commission’s meeting agenda for Thursday, as commissioners and port staff met in Clatskanie to hear NW Innovation Works officials’ presentation on their plans.

Port Deputy Executive Director Paula Miranda said Wednesday that the commission will consider the request at its Feb. 12 meeting as well.

“People will have plenty [of] chances of asking questions,” Miranda said.

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