Port Hopeful of Role in Natural Gas; Clean Energy's Decision to Build Terminal Sets Up JaxPort to Be Major Player

Article excerpt

Byline: Nate Monroe

Buoyed by news last week that Clean Energy Fuels will build a natural-gas processing and fueling terminal in North Jacksonville, hopes are high that Jacksonville's port is well positioned to take the lead in a burgeoning natural-gas industry.

Clean Energy, co-founded by Texas billionaire and energy magnate T. Boone Pickens, says that potential made Jacksonville a natural fit for its first-of-its kind plant, which the company expects to complete in late 2015.

"It's fantastic that someone is seeing the opportunity, that someone is acting on the opportunity," JaxPort spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said.

The facility will take natural gas, cool it to minus-260 degrees Fahrenheit to produce liquefied natural gas and use it to provide fuel for the maritime, heavy-duty trucking and rail industries. Clean Energy boasts that this would be the first such facility on the East Coast.

"Jacksonville has a really unique opportunity for everyone involved," said George Roche, Clean Energy's vice president of national accounts and infrastructure.

Jacksonville's location at the nexus of Interstates 10 and 95 also make it an ideal hub for Clean Energy to expand its Florida network. The company has about 360 natural-gas fueling stations throughout North America.

JaxPort also has potential customers for Clean Energy.

"We think there's going to be tremendous response to this project," Roche said.

Company representatives are tight-lipped on key details about their planned facility - like cost, the number of jobs it will create and any supply agreements put in place.

"When you observe what has happened in the trade press over the last 18 months, there's been a tremendous rising tide of interest in the marine industry for natural gas," Roche said. "It's really been discussed on both coasts and in waterways along the U.S."

RISING INTEREST

At a meeting of the North Florida Logistics Advisory Group only two weeks ago, JaxPort officials and local business leaders stressed the importance of making the port a major player in a natural-gas industry that is soaring in the United States.

"This is what we need," said George Gabel, who heads the Logistics Advisory Group, which works with the Port Authority and other entities to boost international trade. "The reason that a company would be attracted to Jacksonville is that the demand [for natural gas] is already here."

Indeed, some of the port's major tenants are diving into the natural-gas industry.

Sea Star Line has ordered two LNG-powered cargo container ships. Those vessels are under construction and are expected to be delivered in 2015.

In May, Jacksonville-based Crowley Maritime Corp. purchased Carib Energy, which has a U. …