Next week, the Washington Department of Ecology will hold three public meetings in Spokane and other cities near a silicon smelter that's been proposed in Pend Oreille County to take input on the project.
The public is invited to tell Ecology what should be included in the environmental study that is required before the project can start.
PacWest Silicon, owned by HiTest Sand, out of Alberta, wants to build a silicon smelter on nearly 200 acres just south of Newport, Washington, along the Idaho border.
According to Ecology, the smelter would produce up to 73,000 tons of silicon metal each year.
The process requires a massive 100 megawatts or more of electricity to power extremely high-temperature furnaces that melt quartz rock with wood chips to extract the metal. It would then be sold to other companies to further refine it for use in things like solar panels, aluminum, chemical compounds, computer chips and more.
Nearby residents who have organized into opposition groups have expressed concerns over both the public processes involved in the company purchasing the land, and, among other things, the potential for emissions from the plant to contribute to acid rain. The process results in a lot of carbon dioxide, and the plant would be one of the largest emitters in the state. The process also results in smaller amounts of other gases that can contribute to acid rain.
Others have expressed concerns about impacts from traffic to and from the site, by train or truck, as well as dust coming off the quartz rock, which can cause health problems.
"The environmental review will evaluate the potential impacts from the project, as well as options to help protect people and the environment," Ecology says in a news release.
The agency will take public comments through Oct. 11 on what should be included in that study, and notes that an environmental impact statement "can analyze 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."
The public meetings are scheduled for:
- Sept. 18, 6-9 pm at the Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd. Spokane.
- Sept. 19, 6-9 pm at Newport High School, 1400 Fifth St., Newport.
- Sept. 20, 6-9 pm at Priest River Event Center, 5399 Highway 2, Priest River, Idaho
- Sept. 27, 3 pm, by online webinar.