HiTest Silicon FAQ
Community concerns about a large-scale project like the silicon refining facility proposed for Pend Oreille County naturally raises many questions. HiTest Silicon is still undertaking its due diligence for site assessment, but officials say they want to be open and transparent. Below are answers to questions that have frequently come up, provided by HiTest Silicon personnel as well as county and state officials.
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Answers to FAQ questions below provided by HiTest October 16, 2017. All additions or changes will be noted by date.
1. Who is HiTest and why can’t we find any information about them on the Internet? Why aren’t they licensed to do business in the state?
HiTest intentionally has kept a low profile. Their management approach to business is not to create false expectations. Now that a site has been chosen, they have begun the necessary steps to incorporate as a Washington state entity as well as open a local office, which will be known as HiTest Silicon (HTS).
2. When are we going to learn about their plans? Will we have any input?
HiTest has completed the preliminary layout of the site and are now validating these plans with recently completed geotechnical studies, access road studies, and environmental studies. We anticipate that these plans will be presented to the public in November.
3. The price of silicon seems to go up and down. Is this facility economically viable? What are the markets for the product?
Yes. The final product is used in solar panels, aluminum, and 9,000 other products we use every day. Due to their high purity quartz deposit in Canada and the inexpensive power prices in Northeast Washington, the HiTest plant will be one of the most economical plants in the world.
4. What permits and approvals are required? How long will this take? Will an environmental review be conducted? Will the public have any opportunity to comment?
HiTest announced their intent to formally start the application and permitting process during the week of October 1, 2017. As they do, the County will be meeting with HiTest, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and the Pend Oreille PUD, to confirm the permits and approvals that will be required, the information that must be submitted with their applications, and how the review and approval of the various permits and the required environmental review will be coordinated.
An environmental review will be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA.) This environmental review will be used by the Washington State Department of Ecology as it reviews the two air quality permits that are required, the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and a Notice of Construction. The environmental review will also be used by Pend Oreille County as it evaluates the required Conditional Use Permit (CUP) application. The County will also be issuing a building permit and the PUD will review and approve all improvements associated with delivering power to the site as well as a contract for the long term delivery of power.
The environmental review, the air quality permits, and the land use permits will all include extensive opportunities for public review and comment.
5. Will there be monitoring to verify that the Company is not polluting in violation of their permits? What are the consequences if they have a violation? Can the project be changed after the permits are issued?
There will be daily monitoring of the facility’s emissions to insure the facility is operating in accordance with the requirements of the permits and approvals. If there are violations, the facility will be subject to enforcement actions by the Washington State Department of Ecology. Any significant changes to the project would require review and approval by the agency(s) involved and a formal amendment to the permit(s).
6. What type of smelting process will be used? What raw materials will be used in the process and where will they come from? What will be the byproducts of the smelting process? To what extent will byproducts be captured and reused? What facilities use a similar process?
Local wood chips, charcoal, blue gem coal from Kentucky and ¾ inch to 4 inch washed quartz rock from Golden, BC. The only by-product is silica fume which is captured in the bag house and sold to the cement industry. HTS have no chemicals or heavy metals to dispose of as they are not involved in their manufacturing process in any way.
7. Will there be any manufacturing of the silicon at the site, or will it just be the processing of the ore? Will there be any further processing once it leaves the facility or will it be ready for manufacturing?
The facility in Pend Oreille County will only be used to convert quartz rocks, also known as silicon dioxide, into a high grade of silicon metal. It will then be shipped to manufacturers for further processing and use.
8. What is going to be discharged into the air? How much is going to be discharged? How contaminated is the air going to be? Have they taken into account the stagnant air days that we have? How tall will the smokestack be?
The Company has been running air dispersion models up to 350 miles from the site and the preliminary results indicate that the facility will meet all applicable air quality standards. As part of the air dispersion modeling, they studied the historic wind data over the past 3 years. The modeling being conducted not only accounts for HiTest emissions, but also analyzes visibility which is the measure of particles introduced and what effects stagnant air has on them. The primary emission is carbon dioxide which will be monitored.
The height of the emissions stack will be determined during the air quality review by the Department of Ecology. At this point, it is projected to be 150’ in height. Since the site is 200’ feet higher than Newport and Oldtown this will aid in dispersion.
9. What toxic chemicals are going to be used in the process?
None. The only inputs that are used in the process are a very pure quartz rock from Golden, British Columbia, local wood chips, charcoal, and a very pure coal (Blue Gem), mostly likely from Kentucky. Every product that enters the site, leaves as a saleable product. There will be no solid waste as a byproduct of the production process.
10. What are the risks of explosions or accidents that will release toxic chemicals or gases? Will silane gas be used? What measures are being taken to minimize/eliminate the risk of a silane gas leak/explosion or the release of toxic chemicals? There was an accident at the REC facility in Moses Lake and several workers were killed. Will the Newport facility be engaged in the same processing/manufacturing activities, and will there be the same risk of an accident?
Silane gas is not used in the process nor is a by-product of the process. No chemicals or gases will be used in the process, so in the event of an accident, there is zero possibility of any release of toxic chemicals or gases. The Moses Lake facility converts silicon metal made in facilities like the one proposed in Pend Oreille. The Newport facility is a completely different process and facility.
11. Will there be settling ponds on the site? What will they contain? What is the risk of a leak or accident that could contaminate ground water, wells and/or the Pend Oreille River?
Water is used in a closed loop cooling system during the process. In other areas, water will be used to keep wood chips moist, which will evaporate and as a result there is not a need for a settling pond. There may be a need for a pond to hold storm water, but that will be determined during the environmental review and permitting process. No water will be discharged onto the ground or into bodies of water.
12. I don’t believe the reports that the facility will only use 300 gallons of water per day in the processing of the silicon. I understand that the plant in Burnsville is using a lot more water than projected and that the City had to pay to extend a new water line to the site to provide an additional 90,000 gallons of water.
A more accurate assessment is that the facility will use a maximum of 8,000 gallons of water per day in the production process. This includes 2,000 gallons that will be lost through evaporation, and 6,000 gallons that will be used for dust suppression and wetting the wood chips, this water will also evaporate during the process. This is equivalent to the water used by 24 households in the City of Newport. In addition, water will be used by the employees.
13. How noisy is the facility going to be? Will I hear noise at night?
It is our understanding, that the only noise from the plant will be from the outside equipment ie: front end loaders moving around the site, and conveyors. You will hear no noise from inside the plant. A group of community leaders will be going to Mississippi to learn more about the facility there. When they go, they will verify the noise levels from the facility there.
14. How much light or glare is the facility going to create? Will I see lights and glare at night?
HiTest purchased the 186-acres site to minimize the potential sound or light impacts. It is our understanding that they will maintain a natural border around the plant. The plant and associated buildings footprint will be approximately 60 acres, and will have certain areas lit 24×7 for safety and security reasons that will comply with the local area guides for minimizing light pollution. The site is elevated which should further minimize sound and light impacts. Pend Oreille County requires that lighting be downward facing and shielded.
15. How much raw silicon will be processed at the facility? What other materials will be used in the process? How will the material be shipped to the site? How will the facility impact the railroads? Will there be trains with uncovered coal? Will there be increases in pollution or risk of accidents?
HTS will ship 170,000 tonnes of washed silica from Golden to Newport. They will also use a very clean coal called Blue Gem coal from Kentucky. Hi Test is currently evaluating options for shipping materials to the site by truck and by rail. This includes the quartz, as well as the blue gem coal, charcoal, and woodchips.
16. How will the proposed project affect traffic and the quality of roads in Newport?
It is anticipated that employees will access the site from a new road from the west and that materials would likely arrive through a separate entrance on the east side of the site. Other than employees who live in or near Newport, no traffic is expected in Newport.
17. What roads are going to be built and who is going to pay for them?
It is anticipated that one or two roads will be built and that HiTest will be responsible for paying for them. The design and construction of the road providing access from the west will be coordinated with other property owners who may have plans to develop their property in order to make the most efficient use of resources, so there may be some cost sharing among benefitting parties. State grant funding will also be considered.
18. Has the County considered adopting impact fees?
Impact fees are one of several tools that are used to help insure that new development pays for the costs associated with providing services to that development, such as schools, fire, parks, and roads. Impact fees are most frequently applied to the construction of new housing. Depending on the circumstances the collection of impact fees may be appropriate, but other tools may be more appropriate to use.
19. Will the City of Newport need to raise taxes due to an increase in population?
No tax increases are anticipated. It is possible that taxes could go down, but that will need to be further assessed.
20. Will the property values in Newport go up or down if the facility is built?
The real estate market will determine what happens to values, but generally speaking the new jobs will likely result in new housing being built and the increased demand for local goods and services, both of which should result in higher property values.
21. What are the benefits of the project?
The silicon industry has a very strong growth curve and is a carbon positive green industry. The $325 million facility will generate new tax revenues over its 50-year life span. It is anticipated that the facility will attract other private investment into the community. The primary benefit will be from 150 direct new family wage jobs, 250-400 construction jobs, 750 secondary jobs, and new tax revenues associated with a $325 million facility.
22. How many jobs will be created? Will the Company hire any local residents, or are they going to bring their own labor force? How will the facility benefit our schools and training programs in our community?
HiTest will bring in 10 to 12 industry experts to train the local labor force for 1-2 years. Once the training of the local workforce is complete, we anticipate 150 new full time jobs for the local employment, as well as significant spin off jobs. The Company has made a commitment to hire locally and discussions are underway to determine the skill sets required and to start local training programs.
23. Are there any businesses that might be interested or induced to locate near this facility?
The County has already received inquiries from developers interested in building new housing and a motel. Other secondary impacts such as restaurants would also be likely. The facility produces heat, so there may be an interest in other manufacturing facilities to locate nearby, but it is premature to speculate on the potential for additional business development. That will come in due time.
24. How do we know that the Company won’t come in and make a bunch of promises and then leave?
Given the nature of the investment required, HTS has made it clear that they intend to be a part of the Newport community for a long time. Part of the reason they have taken so long to announce their intentions is that they wanted to complete the necessary due diligence to ensure the project’s economic feasibility. They wanted to make sure they had completed every reasonable analysis prior to engaging local residents. The company has invested significant time and money to bring this opportunity to the Newport region
25. What inducements or tax incentives has the County offered? What about the State of Washington?
The County has not offered any inducements or tax incentives. The Washington State Legislature has approved and Governor Inslee has signed into law a tax credit for silicon facilities such as the one proposed by HiTest, which was sponsored by Senator Shelly Short.
26. What financial risks is the County taking on?
The County is not taking on any financial risk, the facility and all required improvements will be the responsibility of Hi Test.
27. If NAFTA is renegotiated, will the County be liable for lost profits?
NAFTA has no bearing on the County, or the products that would be used in the facility. If NAFTA is renegotiated, it is very unlikely that it would affect the quartz being shipped from Canada. If it did, the impact would be insignificant to the operating costs, as HiTest owns the quartz mine in Canada, and they have a nominal transfer price.
28. The proposed project has already been rejected by three towns, what is different about the site in Newport?
HiTest has evaluated numerous potential sites including but not limited to Golden, Usk and Addy. At no point were there any rejections, rather disappointment that the opportunity chose to look elsewhere. No applications were submitted for a project involving alternative sites. The site in Newport has the best potential to provide the quantities of power required at the most competitive prices and is the only site under consideration. The site in Newport also is well situated to minimize potential adverse impacts, and appears to be well suited to meeting the air quality standards.
29. The Company has said that they are going to use very pure inputs to produce very pure silicon metal. How do we know that they won’t start using lower quality materials, once the facility is permitted?
HiTest cannot make its high purity silicon metal without using very pure raw material inputs. The purity of raw materials is necessary to meet the product specification HiTest and its customers require. If raw materials of a lesser quality are used, the product will not meet customer’s needs.