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Large-scale renewable diesel plant could be coming to Whatcom County

Phillips 66 and Renewable Energy Group, Inc., announced Thursday that planning has begun for the construction of a large-scale renewable diesel plant adjacent to the Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, shown here in July of 2017.
Phillips 66 and Renewable Energy Group, Inc., announced Thursday that planning has begun for the construction of a large-scale renewable diesel plant adjacent to the Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, shown here in July of 2017. The Bellingham Herald file

Phillips 66 and Renewable Energy Group, Inc., announced Thursday in a press release that planning has begun for the construction of a large-scale renewable diesel plant that could be built adjacent to the Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery.

The existing infrastructure, including a tank for storage, a dock and rail and truck access, made the Ferndale site ideal for the new renewable diesel plant, according to the release.

“The proposed facility’s strategic location in Washington state would enable us to move renewable fuels more efficiently to support West Coast and international fuel market demand,” Phillips 66 Senior Vice President, Marketing and Commercial, Brian Mandell said in the release. “We continually look for opportunities to provide our customers with a reliable source of innovative renewable fuels.”

According to the release, the new plant would utilize the proprietary BioSynfining technology of REG, a leading provider of cleaner, lower carbon intensity products and services, for the production of renewable diesel fuel. Feedstocks for the process would include a mix of waste fats, oils and greases, including regionally-sourced vegetable oils, animal fats and used cooking oil.

“REG is excited to be working with a leading refiner, Phillips 66 , on a project that has the potential to significantly expand biofuel production in Washington state and provide low carbon fuel markets with products that are in significant demand on the West Coast,” CEO of REG Randy Howard said in the release. “We look forward to working with state and local stakeholders to facilitate development of this important project and increase the supply of low carbon fuels in the region.”

Phillips 66 and REG collaborated on site selection and preliminary engineering for more than a year, according to the release, and both companies expect to make a final investment decision in 2019. If approved, production at the new facility is could begin in 2021.

Because the plant is only in the preliminary planning stages, REG spokesperson Katie Stanley told The Bellingham Herald Friday, it is too early to make estimates on how big the plant would be, how much construction would cost, how much renewable diesel it would produce, how many jobs it could create in Whatcom County or how big an impact it could have on the Whatcom County economy.

“We’ll just have to go down the path a little further,” Stanley told The Herald, “and we’ll have more information on that later.”

Most of the planning decisions will be made next year, Phillips 66 spokesperson Joe Gannon told The Bellingham Herald Friday.

“The site would be industrial scale and designed to meet the needs of our West Coast market,” Gannon told The Herald.

Stanley said the planned renewable diesel plant will be the first joint venture of its kind between Phillips 66 and REG.

“We’ve been in talks for more than a year, looking at site selection and partnership,” Stanley said. “We’re very excited about this opportunity. We feel with the existing Phillips 66 refinery, this brings a lot of advantages from a development standpoint.”

Earlier this year, BP Cherry Point’s new renewable diesel unit started operating, taking tallow — a substance made from rendered animal fat — and converting it into energy that is blended into diesel fuel.

Whatcom County Executive Jake Louws told The Bellingham Herald Friday that he learned of the plans for the Phillips 66-REG plant by reading the press release earlier Friday.

Louws said he does not know any specifics about the planned plant at this time, but, like any other business proposal in Whatcom County, a permit will be processed when it arrives to determine if it is in line with current county code.

The Whatcom County Council has approved a series of moratoriums on new shipments of unrefined fossil fuels through Cherry Point, saying members needed more time to consider land use rules and find out what they can legally do to protect people and the environment as demands push in on the county.

“We’ll need to figure out whether the current moratorium put in place by the Whatcom County Council has any impact on this particular plan,” Louws said. “From what I know at this time, I don’t believe there is, but that’s part of the due diligence that we need to do. ... The moratorium lists numerous components and products that are mostly petroleum-based, and I don’t believe biofuel is one of them. But that’s one of the many things we’re going to have to clear through the system.”

RE Sources was one of several environmental organizations that rallied people to comment on the proposed unrefined fossil fuel export ban when the county council considered it in 2016.

“We’re glad to see local refineries move in this direction to make biofuels from waste products as an alternative to fossil fuels in the short term,” RE Sources Clean Energy Program Manager Eddy Ury said in an email Friday to The Bellingham Herald. “We’ll be reviewing the details of the proposal as they become available, and engaging in the public process for environmental review.”

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