The Tacoma Tideflats could become the site of the state's first natural gas liquefaction plant if a bill being considered by the Legislature passes.
Rep. Jake Fey, one of the bill's sponsors, said the bill would pave the way for Puget Sound Energy to build a liquified natural gas plant on the Tideflat to supply Alaska trailership operator Totem Ocean Trailer Express with liquid natural gas to power its ships.
TOTE is converting its two huge roll-on, roll-off trailerships to use LNG to power their engines. The natural gas fuel will both be less expensive and less polluting than the heavy oil that powers the ships now.
TOTE, whose Puget Sound terminal is on the Blair Waterway in Tacoma, transports trailers filled with goods to and from Anchorage.
The two ships, which will be modified in San Diego, wlll begin service powered by LNG in 2016. The two vessels will be the first large general cargo vessels in the U.S. fleet powered by LNG.
Fey said the bill, which has already cleared the state senate, would give PSE and TOTE certain tax exemptions on materials and machinery used to create the plant. The bill would also make comparable the taxes imposed LNG used as transportation fuel with taxes imposed on gasoline and diesel.
Without the bill's passage, PSE transportation industry customers would have to pay the same tax on natural gas as do home heating customers, a tax that's higher than transportation users pay for rival fuels. Paying that higher tax would make LNG less competitive with gas and diesel or heavy oil now used to power most ships.
TOTE and other ship owners are under a government mandate to cut emissions from their ships. TOTE could have fueled its vessels with low-sulphur oil, but chose instead to convert to LNG, which yields larger emission improvements.
Grant Ringel, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, which now sells natural gas for home heating, said creating LNG from natural gas involves cooling the gas to ultra low temperatures allowing more to be stored aboard ship.
Recent discovery of large quantities of natural gas in the U.S. have driven down wholesale prices for the fuel making it a potentially attractive fuel for transportation.
The Tacoma LNG plant could also serve as a "filling station" for trucks, buses and locomotives that may convert from diesel to LNG.