How long should it take to determine the environmental impacts of environmentally-friendly renewable energy projects?
Green Apple was a joint venture between Phillips 66 (P66) and Renewable Energy Group (REG) that would have created a renewable diesel plant at the P66 Ferndale Refinery located in the Cherry Point Industrial Zone. The plant would convert used cooking oil, fats and greases into renewable fuel for industrial uses.
Tim Johnson, the Public and Government Affairs Director for P66, said Green Apple could have produced 250 million gallons per year, and would’ve been the largest renewable diesel facility on the west coast. It would have created 650 construction jobs and up to 100 permanent jobs to operate the facility.
Washington State Senator Doug Ericksen says everybody wants to see the Green Apple project built in Whatcom County. The economic benefits would be huge, he said, and local governments are still on board. Ericksen has been talking with P66, the Governor’s Office and the Dept. of Ecology, and stated that he is not willing to give up on this project.
P66 and REG announced the project in November 2018, and submitted the application for the Green Apple Project on Dec. 9, 2019. Then the project managers announced that they are discontinuing the project six weeks later on Jan. 21, 2020. The project has been canceled due to permitting delays and uncertainties, according to the announcement.
The cancellation came 5 days after the Dept. of Ecology informed P66 that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be required. Ecology had determined that the project would have significant environmental impacts — including increased shipping traffic, filled wetlands and greenhouse gas emissions.
Johnson said, the environmental review process would add 2 more years to the project, and it was the decision that killed Green Apple. Johnson also pointed out two other renewable diesel projects that were being engineered in the Gulf Coast around the same time as Green Apple have already received permits and are starting construction.
So given that the project would be in direct competition for our market share with existing and planned out-of-state renewable diesel plants, the extended deadline competitively disadvantaged the project, Johnson explained.
The Whatcom County Council lamented the loss of the Green Apple project at its public meeting on Jan 28, 2020. The council unanimously resolved to work with the County Executive and County Planning Department to create an “expedited permitting process” and to try to define legal uncertainties for all renewable energy projects, including the Green Apple Project.
I feel like it’s a lost opportunity, and it’s a place where everyone can potentially agree that we want to create jobs, and we want to do it in a way where we’re supporting things that are more environmentally friendly, County Councilmember Tyler Byrd bemoaned.
This project seemed to check all of those boxes, and all of the groups seemed supportive and excited about it — and also disappointed that the project didn’t take place.
County Executive Satpal Sidhu said he personally met with Phillips 66 immediately after the project was cancelled, and is also meeting with the governor’s office to discuss how they can bring the project back.
Councilmember Rud Browne assured that the cancellation had nothing to do with any action taken by the council, and added that there have been no substantive changes in the state’s major project permitting process in the last 15 years.
Now if P66 is complaining about the fact that they’re going to do a billion dollars of expansion on a plant that has the ability to explode, and they think it’s unreasonable that there is an open public process for that, then I’m not sympathetic, Browne said, but maintained that he supports the renewable energy industry and would work with any applicant. Councilmembers Browne and Todd Donovan both said the they will not recommend skipping an EIS for any project.
Councilmember Ben Elenbaas said he can understand why Green Apple felt unsure about the project. This council does provide uncertainty in the pathway to permitting — that has absolutely been the message with 7, and now 8 temporary moratoriums and the proposed Comp Plan Amendments. Elenbaas said. I don’t blame them for pulling out. I’d pull out too.
Potential legal challenges were another big source of uncertainty that led P66 to cancel the Green Apple Project, Johnson said. Even if a project meets all of the requirements of an EIS and gets an approved permit, they still couldn’t be certain that it would move forward without a lengthy appeals process. Johnson points out that every industrial project of similar magnitude in this region has yet to complete an EIS and resolve the potential legal challenges to get the project progressing. It gets stuck in appeal and drags the project on until the point where its no longer economically viable to continue the project, Johnson said. Johnson shared that, P66 is open to discussion about options for reducing uncertainties and reducing the time to get the approvals to get this project built.
Senator Ericksen says state and local elected officials need to show P66 that they are committed to creating renewable energy jobs, and show them a pathway forward that includes regulatory certainty and timelines that are reasonable. Right now I’m focused in on getting this project done for the people of Whatcom County and Washington State, Ericksen said, and that means we’re going to be reaching across the aisle and hopefully that everybody is going to agree with this and that it needs to be fixed, and we cant wait four years, and we cant have this incredible level of uncertainty for P66. He’s urging residents to contact the Governors office with positive messages of support for renewable energy projects and jobs.
To contact the governor’s office:
Governor Jay Inslee
Office of the Governor
PO Box 40002
Olympia, WA 98504-0002
TTY/TDD call 711 or 1-800-833-6388.
Link to video of Jan. 28 county council meeting (discussion starts around 3:26:25 mark on video)