Controversial Tacoma energy project set to open in 2021

TACOMA, Wash. — The work site bustles with construction equipment. A tall tower stands at the far end of the site. At nearly six stories tall, it will be a first for Washington state. This site is where Puget Sound Energy will make about a half-million gallons a day of liquid natural gas, or LNG, and store about eight million gallons of it. 

LNG is just like the gas that heats your stove or water heater in your home. But when it’s super cold, like -260 degrees Fahrenheit cold, it takes up far less space. 

“This movement is the future of maritime shipping to be cleaner,” says Andy Wappler with Puget Sound Energy. “Tacoma needs this to be a part of that leading wave.” 

Diesel fuel currently powers most shipping around the planet. Dirty and polluting, it’s something that’s being slowly phased out. Liquid Natural Gas is often called a “bridge fuel” to a greener future of energy. While LNG is still a fossil fuel, it produces fewer greenhouse gases and burns significantly cleaner than diesel. 

“Shippers around the world are under international regulations that now require them to operate more cleanly,” says plant manager Jim Hogan. “LNG will allow the Port of Tacoma to continue to be an operating, thriving port, and that’s a huge contributor to the South Sound’s economy."

The Tacoma plant would be the only one on the entire West Coast— and could help heat Tacoma homes in a really cold spell, too. Others are already operational on the Gulf Coast and even near some highly populated places on the East Coast like Boston and Washington, D.C. 

But the Tacoma location has drawn controversy for potentially harming water quality, salmon runs, as well as concerns that the volatile fuel with explosive potential could be a magnet for terrorists.

During Gov. Inslee’s presidential run, he flipped on his previous support of the facility, now siding with Puyallup Tribe members who have been the plant’s most vocal opponents. Despite protests, Puget Sound Energy says it’s only one permit away from being able to operate. 

“More than 13 different state, local, and federal agencies have permitting authority,” says Wappler with PSE. “The Clean Air Agency is the final major permit.” 

We reached out to the Puyallup Tribe to chat with them about this LNG plant, but no one got back to us in time for an on camera interview. Their spokesperson, Michael Thompson tells us via text message that "the tribe opposes the project, believes meaningful consultation did not occur and that the claims that LNG are a transition fuel are misleading and ignore the dangers of fracking."

The plant is set to open in early 2021.