County approves bonds for Montana Renewables conversion project

Cascade County Commissioners voted 2-0 to approve the issuance of $275 million in revenue bonds to Montana Renewables, which is a partner company to Calumet Montana Refining.

Commissioner Joe Briggs was traveling and absent from the meeting.

Montana Renewables will use the proceeds of the bonds to “finance all, or a portion of, the costs of acquiring, constructing, installing, converting, modifying and repurposing infrastructure and improvements…to create a renewable fuels refinery capable of processing renewable feedstocks into sustainable alternatives; a hydraulic expansion of the renewable fuels refinery, including construction and installation of various pumps, control valves, piping and compressors, a new hydrogen plant, and related improvements; acquisition and installation of equipment in the renewable fuels refinery to facilitate production of sustainable aviation fuel; and related improvements,” according to the county.

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Once the bonds are issued, the county will enter into one or more loan agreements or other financing or credit agreements with Montana Renewables for repayment of the bonds, according to the county.

Commissioners voted in February to adopt a resolution announcing their intent to issue the bonds.

Montana Renewables is a renewable fuel business.

The company is converting part of the existing Calumet refinery into a renewable diesel plant.

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Once it’s fully operational, Montana Renewables will “use waste feedstocks to produce low-emission alternatives that directly replace fossil fuel products including renewable hydrogen, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel,” according to the company.

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Wayne Leiker, vice president at Calumet’s Montana refinery, told commissioners during their special Nov. 30 meeting that they’ve completed the conversion construction and are now into the startup phase of the project.

Montana Renewables began production this month and on Nov. 30 sent their first rail cars of renewable diesel fuel, according to the company.

“Today is the beginning. By early 2023, we’ll be producing not just renewable diesel and renewable naphtha, we’ll be the largest sustainable aviation fuel production facility in the country,” Ron Colwell, Montana Renewables general manager, said in a release.

The project also includes a new hydrogen unit, which is expected to be completed in January, and a pre-treatment unit that’s expected to be completed in March, Leiker said.

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Once the pre-treatment unit is operational, the company can purchase raw feedstock, opening more economic opportunities for the company, region and state, Leiker said. Products will be transported by rail, he said.

The company is working with the city on possible wastewater treatment, but has other options if that doesn’t work out, Leiker told commissioners.

The initial plan included 180 jobs, but is now up to 220, Leiker told commissioners.

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He said their expecting to increase the refinery and renewable plant’s economic impact by more than 20 percent.

The company is marking its 100th anniversary this year, Leiker said.

Bruce Fleming, executive vice president of Montana Renewables, told commissioners that the new renewables company and Calumet are stand alone companies and can operate independent of each other.

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The companies are also separate tax entities under the Montana Department of Revenue, according to county officials.

The city and county commissions both approved a tax abatement this year for Calumet’s project.

County Commissioner Jim Larson said, “I think this is an outstanding project,” and it’s nice that the county can help with the bond.