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Port Westward

The buildings from Port Westward’s current tenants rise above the Columbia River shoreline, but there is still more room to grow on the property managed by the Port of St. Helens.

The Port of St. Helens Commission is set to consider a $1.1 billion renewable diesel plant proposed for Port Westward near Clatskanie.

Port spokeswoman Gina Sisco said NEXT Energy Group, owned by Waterside Energy Development of Houston, Texas, presented the proposal to port commissioners on Aug. 22. The commissioners will meet in two weeks to consider site development and lease agreements, she said Thursday.

According to the company’s presentation, it would hire locally for plant construction and operations. It would employ an estimated 210 full-time employees, with an average base salary of $77,851.

Waterside Energy Development CEO Lou Soumas said if the permitting process moves quickly, the company hopes to start construction in late summer 2019. He said the plant would take about two years to build and would begin operation in 2021.

The presentation states the plant would produce 516 million gallons of renewable diesel per year, the most of any renewable fuel plant in the world. The plant would use feedstocks such as used cooking oil, animal fat and some plant oils to produce renewable fuels. Renewable diesel is chemically identical to diesel made from petroleum but has lower greenhouse gas emissions, according to the presentation.

The plant would take up about 80 acres at Port Westward Industrial Park. The port is in the process of rezoning about 837 acres of the 1,700-acre park, and the effort has proven controversial and suffered setbacks. The Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals has scheduled oral arguments on the rezone for Sept. 6.

Waterside Energy Development had previously looked to build in the Cowlitz County area. Riverside Refining, also owned by the Texas company, proposed an oil refinery at the Port of Longview in 2015. Environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper questioned the company’s credibility. The group said top Riverside officials were being sued in Lincoln County, Oregon over their involvement in a biodiesel company that shut down after failing to finance an expansion, falling behind on its rent and leaving behind chemical waste.

Port of Longview commissioners cut off talks with Waterside Energy in February 2016, effectively killing the oil refinery project. The vote followed a determination the company failed to prove it had financial backing for the project.

Soumas said over the last couple years the company tried to find a location in Cowlitz County for a renewable fuel facility but couldn’t find a spot with sufficient acreage and utilities. He said the project has grown in size over time due to growing demand.

Waterside Energy Development won’t seek out federal, state or local money for the renewable diesel project, Soumas said. The plant also won’t ask for property tax breaks, he added. The plant would be a part of the community and the company should pay its fair share to cover its impact, Soumas said.

Port Westward was chosen for the project because of its location on the Columbia River and because the plant met the port’s requirements as well, Soumas said. The port is looking for projects that are water-dependent, produce a liquid commodity and are energy-related.

“It’s ideal for what the port is designed for and what the commission has elected to do with it, and that’s why we tried to partner up with them,” Soumas said.

Port Westward was previously home to an ethanol plant originally owned by Cascade Grain. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2009 six months after it opened. Addressing possible concerns for the new plant’s success, Soumas said at the time the ethanol plant opened the supply and demand was off balance. Now, the market for renewable diesel is under-supplied, he said.

“The market wants renewable diesel,” Soumas said.

Soumas said another big difference between the proposed project and the old ethanol plant is that the renewable diesel plant will have contracts with customers, rather than having to search them out.

Soumas made a presentation on the plant to the Kiwanis Club of Clatskanie and has more presentations scheduled in the community, he said. The project has gotten positive response so far, Soumas said.

The commission’s next scheduled meeting is Sept. 12, but it may hold a special meeting on the topic on Sept. 5, Sisco said.

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