PacWest Silicon smelter project

Project status: Placed on hold indefinitely, following a July 2019 request from PacWest Silicon.

PacWest Silicon expressed plans to build a silica smelter near the city of Newport in Pend Oreille County.

The first step in any environmental review is to conduct a study to evaluate impacts of the proposal and potential options to help protect people and the environment.
 
We reviewed public comments to prepare a scoping report for a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The scoping report was not completed, however, because the applicant requested Ecology stop work on the environmental review after a bid period and before we came to terms of agreement on a contractor. If the applicant indicates they are interested in starting the environmental review process again, Ecology will restart the bid process to hire a contractor to begin writing the EIS. 

PacWest Silicon proposes to build the smelter on more than 180 acres to produce up to 73,000 tons of silicon metal each year.

The manufacturing process combines quartz rock (supplied by the company HiTest Sand) wood chips, and coal and charcoal with extremely high temperatures to produce the metal.

An EIS can analyze probable impacts on both the natural environment and nearby communities, including how the project could affect air quality, plant and animal habitat, transportation, and cultural resources. Multiple alternatives can be studied in an EIS.

After public input is considered, we finalize the scope of the EIS and then prepare a draft study that will be available for public review and comment.

The final study is an impartial, comprehensive document used as resource for future decision-makers and the public to evaluate the company’s permit applications.

Note: The timeline below is an early representation of the original schedule. In July of 2019, this process was put on hold until further notice following a request from PacWest Silicon.

Tentative review schedule subject to change. Plain text version.
Find project descriptions, maps, and other relevant information.

Project description

The proposed project site is approximately 188 acres, located southeast of the city of Newport. The site was previously used for logging and has one unpaved, winding road. The road traverses the site and has been used as an access road. The site is surrounded by undeveloped or previously logged/forested land, except for the two existing farms/residences south of the site. 

The proposed facility would occupy approximately 70 percent of the property and consist of several sheet-metal clad buildings, the tallest would be 157 feet above grade. The area is currently hilly, with the steepest slope around 15 percent. The company expects to grade the site to reduce the steepest slope to 2-3 percent. On-site structures are not expected to impact views from neighboring properties, which are blocked by either higher ground or trees, and no lighting or glare issues are anticipated.

The nearest bodies of water are the Pend Oreille River and the Little Spokane River.

PacWest proposes to use two submerged arc furnaces (SAF) to produce approximately 73,000 tons of silicon per year. To make silicon, SAFs are heated to greater than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit by three carbon electrodes.

Raw materials, process and products

As proposed, the facility would use quartz, coal, charcoal, and wood to produce silicon metal using electrically-heated, semi-enclosed submerged-arc furnaces. The molten silicon produced in the SAF is tapped into heated ladles, which pour into forms to cast ingots. Ingots are stored and/or broken up, crushed, and sized according to customer specifications. The silicon metal produced at the facility would be sold to various industries with 50 percent of production earmarked for solar cells. 

Raw materials:
 
Raw material Amount per year Delivery method
Quartz rock 170,000 tons Train
Blue gem coal and charcoal 150,000 tons Train
Wood chips 130,000 tons Truck
 
Fumes and dust generated by the furnace, tapping operations, and casting operations would be cooled and passed through filters. The material captured by the filters from operations would be comprised mainly of silica and would be packaged and shipped offsite for use as a concrete additive.

Material storage and handling

A proposed rail spur and loop to the west of the site would connect the facility with existing tracks, and would be used to hold the trains while cars containing raw materials are unloaded.

The quartz rock, coal, and charcoal would be stored in enclosed areas and wood chips would be stored outside. Front-end loaders would retrieve raw materials from storage piles and place them onto covered conveyors. The conveyors would deliver raw materials to day bins, which meter out appropriate quantities of each material onto weigh belts that lead to SAFs. 

The number of rail cars unloaded per day is expected to range between 1 and 100 with an average of approximately 10 per day. An average of five rail cars would be loaded with products and shipped offsite each day. Unloading operations would occur only between 7 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Inbound and outbound rail shipments are expected to occur throughout the year. Loading and unloading activities would be covered and fugitive dust would be mitigated by suppression systems. A switching locomotive would be available on site to coordinate rail movement as needed.

Transportation

All raw materials would be brought to the site by rail, except wood chips, which would be delivered by truck. Product would be removed from the site by rail or truck, as determined by the customer. 

The facility is expected to generate approximately 200 passenger vehicle trips per day, and up to 50 commercial and non-passenger vehicle trips per day, for a total of 250 vehicle trips per day. 

Access to the site is currently very limited. The project would require a new road to allow vehicle access.  Alternatives under consideration include:
  • A road from the west that would connect the site with US Highway 2
  • A road from the east that would connect to Idaho State Highway 41
  • Improving an access road from the north
On-site roads would be paved and designed for use by cars, bicycles, and pedestrians. The parking lot at the facility would have approximately 150 spaces. The site is not currently served by public transit, and such a service is not expected when the facility is under construction or in operation. The nearest access to public transit is in Newport.

Noise

Vehicular and rail traffic to and from the site, as well as on-site equipment and processes, are expected to introduce new noise sources to the surrounding environment. The facility would be designed, constructed and operated in compliance with all applicable noise limits at all times. Noise analysis will be used to quantify expected noise levels at the nearest sensitive receivers to the site, and, if necessary, to identify and assess noise mitigation measures to ensure the facility can comply with the applicable noise limits.

Utilities

Currently, the proposed site is not serviced by any utilities. Nearby, established local utilities would be extended to the site to provide electricity, sewer, wastewater, phone, cable, and internet. PacWest doesn’t expect wastewater would be discharged to surface waters or onto the ground. As mentioned above, the SAFs would be heated using electricity provided by the Pend Oreille Public Utility District (see related actions below).

Process consumables, such as nitrogen and oxygen and fuels such as diesel and propane, would be delivered by local providers.

The new facility would require fire protection, police protection and emergency services. To mitigate the need for police protection, the facility property would be fenced and would have security personnel on the premises at all times. The need for fire protection would be mitigated by the presence of an on-site fire suppression system.

To reduce the need for emergency services, the facility would:
  • Maintain compliance with all the federal and state Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations.
  • Provide health and safety training to all employees.
  • Maintain staff trained with first aid specialists on each work shift.
  • Develop a risk management plan to guide responses to accidents or accidental spills that could be a hazard to the environment or people.
The need for additional services such as schools and health care may increase if the population of Newport increases as a result of the project. The proposed project does not include any housing. No one would reside at the facility. The facility would not create or displace any recreation opportunities or activities in the area.

Water use

In order to provide water to the facility, a well would be drilled under Washington state’s permit exemption. The company may use up to 5,000 gallons per day for industrial purposes and 5,000 gallons per day for indoor domestic use.

Stormwater runoff would be collected in a retention pond to supplement water needed for industrial purposes such as on-site dust control and to keep the wood chip pile saturated with moisture.

Air emissions

The facility is expected to release air pollutants to the atmosphere, which will be regulated by federal and state standards. The pollutants fit into four categories, including criteria pollutants, hazardous air pollutants, toxic air pollutants, and greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Annual emissions of at least one criteria pollutant is expected to exceed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) major source threshold, which makes the project subject to review under the PSD program implemented by Ecology.

Key among the PSD review is to employ Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce emissions from all new sources, and to demonstrate that ambient air quality standards will not be exceeded as a result of the project.

The facility is expected to consume electricity, and to generate GHGs with a potential to emit up to 766,000 tons per year.

Wildlife, habitat and cultural resources

Vegetation at the proposed site currently consists of coniferous trees, shrubs, and weeds. Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale), a Washington State Class B noxious weed, was found on the site during a survey. On-site vegetation would be removed from building footprints, and to accommodate access roads, and an ongoing weed control program would be implemented. Native tree species would be planted on the edges of the property wherever possible to enhance the vegetation of the site.

The site is not part of a known animal migration route, and no wetlands have been identified.

Animals observed during a site survey include:
  • Ravens (Corvus corax)
  • Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
  • Whitetailed deer (Odorcoileus virginianus)
  • Coyote (Canis latran)
A Townsend’s big-eared bat communal roost site was documented south of the property during the survey. It’s currently a Washington State Candidate Species for listing and the roost is not located on site.

Five threatened or endangered species are listed in Pend Oreille County although none have been observed in the area:
  • Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus)
  • Canada lynx (Lynx Canadensis)
  • Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis)
  • Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou)
  • Ute ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes diluvialis)
A preliminary anthropological survey was conducted in December 2017. It included a three-day archaeological survey with 15-30 shovel probes and review of appropriate historical maps, surveys, and GIS data. No cultural or historic resources were discovered at the site, at the time.

Related actions

Pend Oreille Public Utility District (POPD) is proposing to construct electrical supply improvements including a new 115 kV or 230 kV transmission line approximately 12 miles long to a new on-site substation at the manufacturing facility. As part of these improvements, Bonneville Power Administration may upgrade an existing substation or build a new substation where POPD’s transmission line would interconnect to their system.

The electrical supply improvements are not being undertaken or permitted by the project proponents. They will be evaluated alongside the project because they are being constructed primarily for electricity supply to the proposed project.

Last update: Sept. 18, 2018

Associated project documents and archives

Project documents

Reports

Correspondence

The public comment period for providing input on the scope of the environmental study is closed. We reviewed comments to prepare a scoping report for a draft EIS. The scoping report was not completed, however, because the applicant requested Ecology stop work on the environmental review after a bid period and before we came to terms of agreement on a contractor. If the applicant indicates they are interested in starting the environmental review process again, Ecology will restart the bid process to hire a contractor to begin writing the EIS. 

You can review comments already submitted online through our eComments system or by reading transcripts from our public meetings.

You can also review materials from the public scoping meetings:

Map of proposed location for the project, southeast of Newport.

Project location

PacWest Silicon is proposing to build a smelter on more than 180 acres at the Washington-Idaho border to produce up to 73,000 tons of silicon metal each year. 

Silicon metal can be used in the manufacture of many common household products, photovoltaic solar cells, electronics and steel.

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