An Edmonton, Albertabased silicon smelting company that had been looking earlier this year to build a manufacturing facility at the former Northwest Alloys plant in Addy has now decided to locate their facility near Usk in Pend Oreille County, according to a news release last week from the state’s Department of Commerce.
HiTest Sand Inc.’s proposed $300-million silicon smelter has been designated as a Project of Statewide Significance by the Department of Commerce and will receive $300,000 in economic development assistance through the Pend Oreille Economic Development Council. The $300,000 grant from the state’s Economic Development Strategic Reserve Fund will assist with engineering costs associated with developing the 80-acre industrial site in Usk.
The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported that the site would be located adjacent to the Ponderay Newsprint Co.’s paper mill on Hwy 20.
To qualify as a Project of Statewide Significance, Department of Commerce said, “a project must be a private industrial development with private capital investment in manufacturing or research and development, or development that will provide a net environmental benefit. Additional criteria include providing significant economic benefit to the local or state economy and alignment with the state’s comprehensive plan for economic development.”
The project may also qualify for a expedited permitting process. The release indicated that much of the silicon produced from sand at the smelter will be used by other manufacturers in Washington to produce solar cells, computer chips, and aluminum products. The company estimates the project will create 400 construction jobs and 170 permanent full-time jobs. The jobs are expected to pay well above the area’s average salary. Testifying before the House Finance Committee in Olympia in February, Jayson Tymko, President of HiTest Sand, said that average annual salaries would be $65,000.
At the time, Tymko was testifying in support of legislation – which ultimately did not pass – proposed by 7th District Representative Shelly Short that would reduce electric and gas rates for silicon smelters by providing tax relief to energy providers. According to Tymko in February, the preferred site for the new facility was the former Northwest Alloys plant in Addy. In addition to creating new jobs, Department of Commerce said that the project will have a positive environmental impact.
“The smelting process will use large quantities of wood chips from forest cullings, providing additional public benefit to Washingtonians in reduced wildfire risk and a lower carbon footprint for in-state manufacturers using this responsibly sourced, local silicon. The nearest similar sources are east of the Mississippi River or off-shore, primarily southeast Asia,” the release stated. “This is one of the most significant projects in the state for years. It is gratifying to see it happen in a region facing economic challenges,” Commerce Director Brian Bonlender said. “The tri-county region and neighboring city of Spokane offers HiTest Sand an incredible foundation on which to build generations of success – sustainable forest resources, low-cost clean energy and a highly skilled manufacturing workforce. I’m proud of the way local officials, our fellow state agencies and our team at Commerce and Governor Inslee’s office worked together with the company as business partners.”
The new jobs will help the Pend Oreille county area that has been struggling with high unemployment rates of 8.7 percent. Statewide average unemployment in June was reported at 5.6 percent.
“From the time Representative [Joel] Kretz and I first met HiTest Sand eight months ago, our focus was to bring all decisionmakers to the table and to assist them with whatever challenges they had. Everyone worked tirelessly to help bring this to fruition. It’s incredibly exciting and gratifying,” 7th District Representative Shelly Short said.
“HiTest Sand Inc. is excited at the prospect of joining the community of northeastern Washington. The support of local business leaders, the Pend Oreille County Commission, Governor Inslee, and especially Representatives Shelly Short and Joel Kretz, was key in our decision to focus our development efforts on the Usk site,” Tom Vaughn, vice president of U.S. Operations for HiTest Sand said. “We look forward to seeing our silicon product incorporated into similar environmentally focused industries both here in Washington as well as the rest of North America.”
“As a leading innovator their industry, HiTest shares our commitment to enabling the great promise of the clean energy economy,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “I look forward to watching the resurgence of hard-working Washington communities spurred by this exciting new development in our northeast region.”
Company had looked at Addy site Although Rep. Short is excited that the company has decided to locate in her district, she described her feeling as “bittersweet” after the announcement.
“I’m super happy that those jobs are coming to the 7th District, but I was really hoping that we could bring those jobs to Addy,” Short explained in an interview this week about her desire to bring employment closer to her home. “Usk is very close to Chewelah and Colville, so some people in our area will be able to find work there,” Short said but expressed disappointment that local schools and other programs in Stevens County would not be able to benefit from the expanded tax base.
During this last session, Short had introduced legislation that was designed to reduce electric and gas rates for silicon smelters by giving a tax break to providers that sell energy to those smelters. The legislation did not pass. Testifying in February at a House Finance Committee hearing, company officials indicated that the Addy site was their preferred location in Washington for the plant
because of the existing infrastructure but, according to Short, they were not able to negotiate a favorable contract with Avista Utilities for electricity.
“The number one issue [in deciding where to locate] was the price of electricity,” Short said.
Chewelah Mayor Dorothy Knauss, who also testified in Olympia in support of the tax proposal, was also discouraged by the lost opportunity. “I am very disappointed that HiTest Sand did not find it economically feasible to locate at the Addy plant. Several people, led by Rep. Shelly Short, worked hard to encourage them to locate there. I have not been in contact with company executives, but I understand the cost of electrical power was a major factor in their decision to go to Usk,” Knauss said earlier this week.
Although details of negotiations between HiTest Sand and electricity providers are not available, information from the Pend Oreille Public Utility District website indicates that they can provide electricity to customers at a cost approximately 28 percent less than Avista. The smelter project in Usk is expected to take about nine months in design and permitting and two years to build.
-By Jared Arnold/The Independent Staff