Credit: The Chetwynd Echo
CHETWYND – More than 150 people packed into the Cottonwood Hall Thursday evening to hear more about a proposed $2.6 billion renewable clean fuel energy plant scheduled to be constructed by Victoria-based Blue Fuel Energy on 1,055 acre parcel of land located on the outskirts of town.
The evening included an open house and a presentation by CEO Juergen Puetter and company spokesperson Michael Macdonald who was once the senior vice president of global operations for Methanex: the world’s largest producer and supplier of methanol. Macdonald has built similar plants around the world including Egypt. Macdonald said the first phase of the project would be a refinery at a cost of between $2 billion and $2.5 billion that would use natural gas – readily available in the Chetwynd area – and hydrogen and oxygen from water.
Once completed, it would be followed by a $1.8 billion methanol plant. He said the plant will have a very small carbon footprint and would be cleaner than any refinery out there currently. Macdonald explained the project to the crowd and gave the low down on how it’s all going to work including a short chemistry class on the molecular breakdown of the elements needed to create their final product – gasoline. Using technology licensed from ExxonMobil, Macdonald said the plant would make methanol from natural gas, which would then be made into a low-carbon gasoline, using the hydrogen and oxygen parsed from water.
The integrated operations will generate large amounts of waste heat Puetter explained, thus creating opportunity to construct greenhouses and fish ponds that will provide fresh produce and fish for the region. These will be developed in partnership with local First Nations. Blue Fuel Energy has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Moberly Lake First Nations. Puetter said the excess heat would be provided at no charge adding eventually, the offer of free greenhouse heat could be available to anybody including schools.
Macdonald said when the project is completed it would be the only type of plant of its kind on the planet.
“This is a world first,” Puetter said. “We’ll be the world largest electrolizer, the world’s cleanest methanol, the cleanest gas making plant – it’s the first project that bridges renewable fossil fuels and the gasoline sector. It’s really big and totally exciting.”
The energy inputs to separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a water molecule are high. Puetter said the Sundance Fuels project would require 150 megawatts of power (about one-seventh the capacity of the Site C dam), which it would get from the grid. (Some people might also remember Puetter as the president of Aeolis Wind Power, the company behind Bear Mountain windpark in Dawson Creek.
In his presentation Thursday evening Puetter said there is a good possibility that most of the power needed for the plant could be created by wind.) Following the two-hour presentation, Puetter said he was pleasantly surprised with the turnout and response.
This is the second open house Blue Energy has hosted in Chetwynd.
“The first time we came here very few people knew about it,” he said. “Now we’ve had enough time to get it out in the media, people could think about it and head to the webpage. This is now really feeling the pulse of the community and getting feedback.” Most of the questions from the public during the presentation focused on the impact of the plant on the surrounding lands and the residents, the environmental impact as well as the impact on the surrounding community and economy.
“We’re not a resource industry that goes up and down,” Puetter said. “Since I’ve been coming to the Peace Region for the past 15 years Tumbler Ridge has been boom bust, boom bust. This is steady long term. We’re hoping to bring stability.” Puetter said the feedback and questions received will be addressed as much as they can.
“We have a genuine desire to become a good long term community member,” he said. “And I have a feeling we’ve been welcomed.” If everything goes according to plan construction will begin in 2016 with production starting up in 2019. The project is estimated to bring with it between 1,000 and 1,500 jobs during its construction nand around 150 permanent jobs once operational.
—Naomi Larsen, Chetwynd Echo Editor