Blog Big Vehicle Import Center, Biofuels Plant Eyed for Vancouver, WA Port

The Columbian reports this morning that an affiliate of a Swedish-Norwegian shipping concern has announced its preliminary intent to build a big vehicle import center as part of the Port of Vancouver, Washington’s Columbia Gateway industrial development.

On Tuesday, port officials signed a letter of intent with Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics Americas to develop the $453 million facility that would dwarf the port’s existing Subaru operation and match the Port of Portland’s auto business.
Wallenius Wilhelmsen would build a marine terminal and processing facility on 344 acres that the port would make construction-ready, according to the deal. The facility, projected to generate a $62 million annual payroll, could be operational by late 2010 or 2011.
…the facility will be able to handle more than 500,000 cars annually….At the Port of Portland, Hyundai, Honda and Toyota moved 463,557 vehicles in 2006 through two terminals. It was a record year, up 31 percent from 2005….Wallenius Wilhelmsen Americas signed a deal last summer with Subaru of America to process the automaker’s vehicles in Baltimore. The agreement was part of Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s larger expansion plans in the Eastern city.

Earlier this month, Rappaport Energy Consulting of Olympia, Washington, announced plans to build at Columbia Gateway a biodiesel processing plant and a wood-based ethanol refinery.
As the Columbian reports today, both projects depend heavily on retention of a special six-year, non-renewable Industrial Development District levy approved by the port to purchase riverfront acerage for Columbia Gateway tenants and build an east-west train freight line considered critical to the project. Local voters aggrieved that state legislation obviated their veto powers over the special port tax have successfully placed a yea-nay measure on the Aug. 21 primary election ballot. If the special tax is rescinded, the Gateway project is at least temporarily stymied, and the two initial tenants either cool their heels or go elsewhere.
Even if that happens, there’s a larger lesson to be drawn. The American yen for purchasing new Asian cars shows no signs of abating, and vehicle miles traveled continue to trend upward. That has implications for the push to develop “green” fuels; and efforts to expand mass transit in locales such as Central Puget Sound.
Biodiesel derived from palm oil isn’t so green, compared to that manufactured from vegetable oils or animal fats. And both wood-based ethanol and fuel derived from bio-mass beat by miles corn-based ethanol, which gobbles energy in the production process. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles hold great promise, but the environmental benefits are far greater if the electricity used to power them comes from non-fossil fuel sources.
Meanwhile, many putative progressives eye the whole alternative fuels scrum warily, thinking that anything which makes driving cars more environmentally palatable will ultimately discourage transit use, enhance sprawl and worsen global warming.
Let’s take these one by one.
To the extent current global warming is caused by man’s activites, it will require far-reaching efforts by major nations – especially huge players such as China and India, and yes, the United States – to develop and implement comprehensive clean energy initiatives, in addition to boosting alternative fuel usage. All rhetorical chest-beating aside, the challenge of replacing conventional with clean energy sources is rather bracing, as illustrated by a recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration titled, “Annual Energy Outlook 2007 – With Projections To 2030.” As the report notes on page 2 of the “Overview” section:

Despite the rapid growth projected for biofuels and other nonhydroelectric renewable energy sources and the expectation that orders will be placed for new nuclear power plants for the first time in more than 25 years, oil, coal, and natural gas still are projected to provide roughly the same 86-percent share of the total U.S. primary energy supply in 2030 that they did in 2005 (assuming no
changes in existing laws and regulations
– itals added). The expected rapid growth in the use of biofuels and other nonhydropower renewable energy sources begins from a very low current share of total energy use; hydroelectric power production, which accounts for the bulk of current renewable electricity supply, is nearly stagnant; and the share of total electricity supplied from nuclear power falls despite the projected new plant builds, which more than offset retirements, because the overall market for electricity continues to expand rapidly in the projection.

Books by candlelight, and woodstoves, anybody? Or microwaves and plasma screens, plus a carbon tax?
For its part, “sprawl” is a somewhat loaded concept, reducing to a disease-like term the proclivity of actors in the free market to decide where to live based on laws of supply, demand and consequent household costs.
Just as people cannot be hectored into pricey and pinched urban townhomes merely to suit the objectives of planners and environmentalists, they cannot be browbeaten into taking mass transit. It will work for some on a daily basis, but not for many others, based on their daily travel patterns.
If those 463,557 vehicles don’t end up passing through Wallenius Wilhelmsen’s envisioned distribution center in Vancouver, Washington, they will likely come – along with all their economic benefits and environmental and public policy implications – into some other regional port. Of course, they’re only a fraction of the new imported passenger vehicles regularly landing in Northwest and other U.S. ports.
To shape metropolitan region transportation policy accordingly, governments, business and stakeholders should develop a multi-pronged approach which includes: system-wide time-variable tolling on major highways and state routes; greater emphasis on public-private partnerships to cost-effectively provide transportation infrastructure and services; mass transit which delivers the most ridership per dollar spent; improved inter-city rail travel; and ongoing research and development to deliver to market larger quantities of clean, green alternative fuels.