Less than two weeks ago, port and logistics officials heard of the need for Northeast Florida to take the lead in the natural gas industry to attract — and keep — business in the area.
Some of those needs could be met by the end of 2015, through a company partly owned by billionaire investor T. Boone Pickens.
Clean Energy Fuels Corp. will build a Jacksonville terminal that could supply as much as 300,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas to ship owners and businesses. Such plants receive natural gas from a pipeline, chill it to liquefied state and store it at low pressure for delivery.
The company will announce today that a 100-plus-acre site along Zoo Parkway in North Jacksonville is under contract.
Val Bostwick confirmed the deal Tuesday, but would not elaborate, saying the company was in its due diligence phase. The land is owned by the Bostwick family trust.
Construction on the terminal is set to begin in the second quarter of next year and be complete by the fourth quarter of 2015.
It will be the first liquefied natural gas facility on the Eastern seaboard to specifically fuel maritime, heavy-duty trucking and the rail industries, according to a Clean Energy spokesman.
It also is the first project for Eagle LNG Partners, which is a consortium of Clean Energy, GE Ventures, GE Energy Financial Services and Ferus Natural Gas, which formed to deliver the fuel in the United States.
Greg Roche, Clean Energy's vice president for national accounts, said Tuesday that Jacksonville is a "great logistics hub" that allows the company to expand its network into Florida while serving the region.
Clean Energy has similar facilities in Willis, Texas, and Boron, Calif. The Jacksonville plant would produce more per day than both combined.
Roche said he could not comment on the price of the facility, nor how many jobs it would bring to the area. He did say the company will not approach city officials about financial incentives.
The move should benefit the port, one company leader said.
"The Eagle LNG Partners project could establish the Port of Jacksonville as a leader in maritime natural gas fueling and support the shipping industry as it follows other transportation segments in transitioning to natural gas," Brian Powers, Clean Energy vice president of liquefied natural gas production, said in a news release.
Brian Taylor, Jacksonville Port Authority CEO, told the North Florida Logistics Advisory Group almost two weeks ago of the need for such a service and facility.
Sea Star Line, one of JaxPort's major tenants, will have new ships by the end of 2015 that run on the alternative fuel. Without the necessary service to provide the client, Taylor said the company could go elsewhere.
"We're happy someone stepped up to do it," Taylor said Tuesday.
Although the company will not directly work with the port, Taylor said JaxPort is supportive and would help facilitate the deal where it could to ensure any requirement of port clients is met.
Sea Star Line President Peter Keller said the company has not selected a vendor for its ships, but was encouraged by company with a background like Clean Energy entering the market.
"I think it's going to be good for the port, good for transportation, in general," Keller said.
Clean Energy's timeline would match up with when the Sea Star ships would come online, Keller said, and a vendor for fuel provider likely would be made by the end of the year.
One of the reasons the fuel has become attractive is the 2015 enforcement of the North American Emission Control Area, which limits sulfur emissions within 200 miles of the United States.
Mayor Alvin Brown said the move for liquefied natural gas is an "essential component" of energy independence and is an opportunity for "dynamic enhancement" for JaxPort.
JAXUSA President Jerry Mallot said that the city is positioned to become an East Coast hub for the fuel and that Jacksonville should have a "first to market" advantage that should attract more investors.
"This is a great project that will create jobs and increase economic vitality for the entire region," Mallot said in a statement.