Last year, plans to bring a methanol plant to Tacoma were cancelled, costing the city a $3.6 billion investment. Sound familiar? All over Washington, worthwhile developments in our state’s energy infrastructure are being delayed and ultimately given up on as a result of lengthy reviews and opposition from special interest groups. Now, as Puget Sound Energy (PSE) seeks to build an export facility for clean burning natural gas in Tacoma, the city’s Planning Commission has a chance to set a new course—or make the same mistake again.
On the shores of Commencement Bay, the Tacoma Tideflats are an optimal location for this type of infrastructure project. Once a dilapidated industrial site, PSE has begun transforming the area into a state of the art facility to meet the growing global and domestic demands for liquefied natural gas (LNG), saving customers of the state’s oldest energy utility millions. Just recently PSE Vice President of Customer Operations Andy Wappler wrote in The News Tribune that the facility could save local natural gas consumers up to $100 million on utilities over the next 10 years.
But after years of working with state and local governments for project approval, PSE now faces a pivotal decision by the Tacoma Planning Commission. As Tacoma decides how to regulate use of the Tideflats, opponents want the commission to enact interim regulations that prevent the use of the land for industrial development. However, enacting such regulation will harm the environment and stifle growth in the region.
Yet LNG is cleaner and safer than other fuel sources and refueling maritime vessels from Alaska with LNG rather than diesel will reduce emissions by over 30 percent and almost fully eliminate harmful exhaust smoke produced by the ships. Overall, the plant will eliminate 160,000 tons of toxic air pollutants. In addition to being cleaner for the environment, LNG is also a much safer fuel since the liquid would naturally evaporate, in the unlikely event of a spill.
Regulations against the facility will also hinder the growth of Tacoma’s economy. If, for the second time in two years, Tacoma forces a major industrial project to be delayed or leave the state, investors are likely to view the city as a hostile business environment for their projects. This negative long term precedent could deter investment for decades, as companies seek more stable environments for their long-term endeavors. But in the short term, the city would be turning away good paying jobs and tax revenue that will undoubtedly be generated by this new facility and its operations.
Opponents fail to understand the plant’s benefits to the environment and the risk their efforts pose to Tacoma’s economy. PSE wants to invest in Washington by providing cleaner, more affordable fuel options, and should be welcomed. Hopefully the Tacoma Planning Commission realizes that impeding infrastructure projects will deter investment and ultimately erode Washington’s competitive potential.