BREWER, Maine — Residents questioned the president of Maine Liquid Methane Fuels LLC on Wednesday about whether his proposed liquid methane fuels energy plant would create a smell or any danger of explosions.
The answer to both questions is basically no, Christian “Chris” Hofford, who has nearly 40 years of experience with liquefied gas plants, told the audience at an informational meeting at City Hall.
“The [safety] record of liquefied gas plants is excellent,” he said. “We have had no disastrous gas fires since the early 40s when they were building them and didn’t know what they were doing. It’s pretty safe stuff.”
He went on to say liquefying natural gas does not smell, does not create any particle emissions and has a very low noise output.
“You won’t smell or hear this plant,” said Hofford, who is president of CHI Engineering of Portsmouth, N.H., a firm that specializes in liquefied natural gas facilities.
The liquid methane fuels plant, estimated to cost $50 million to build, would be located in the city’s new business and commerce park, located off Wiswell Road, and would be similar to plants in Massachusetts and California, which have used liquefied natural gas fuels for a number of years.
“We’re taking gas from the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline,” which travels through Brewer, and “we’re purifying and liquefying it so we can truck it,” Hofford said.
Liquefied methane is cleaner to burn and a considerably cheaper alternative to petroleum products, he said.
Maine Liquid Methane Fuels submitted plans for the state’s first natural gas processing plant to the city earlier this month and was placed on the February Planning Board agenda. The limited liability corporation also must apply for a wetland mitigation permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend the road and a permit from the Department of Environmental Protection.
“I’ve been building these plants since 1973,” Hofford said. “I just finished one in California that is very similar to this one. I decided it was time to build one of these locally.”
There is an LNG storage facility in Lewiston, “but no other facilities [in Maine] are producing liquefied methane,” which is one variety of liquefied natural gas, Sasa Cook, project manager and vice president of Maine Liquid Methane Fuels, has said.
There are some dangers, just like any other fuels that are transported on roadways, Hofford said.
“There is always an opportunity for a fire transporting any type of fuel,” he said. “It happens that liquid methane has the best safety record, because there is a double tank” in the tankers that transport the fuel.
There also are automatic shutoff valves at the plant, designed to keep any discharge within the plant’s boundaries, he said.
The planned facility would provide 12 to 20 full-time jobs, and others related to transportation, all filled by local people, he said.
At first, Maine Liquid Methane Fuels would supply only large energy users, such as paper mills and others seeking to reduce energy costs, Hofford said, mentioning Jackson Lab as one possible client.
Brewer resident Joe Cote, general manager of Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility who once worked for Bangor Gas, said Jackson Lab had approached the gas company years ago about natural gas service.
“I couldn’t bring natural gas to them because it cost too much money,” he said, adding that the Brewer plant could economically deliver its liquid methane product.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Cote said, adding he was impressed with Hofford’s presentation.
“He was very straightforward and candid with people,” he said. “He didn’t hold back.”
Others, including Mayor Arthur “Archie” Verow and Councilor Larry Doughty, also said they were impressed with the project.
“We want to be a good neighbor and a good citizen here,” Cook said, inviting those with questions to check out the company’s Web site, www.maineliquidmethanefuels.com, and to contact them.
If all goes as planned, the plant is expected to open in fall 2011.