Award to fund WaferTech upgrade

Grant/loan will help make Camas plant more energy efficient

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Bonneville Power Administration and WaferTech: $700,000

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loan: $282,000

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant: $120,000

Washington State University Extension Energy Program Grant: $100,000

Total: $1.2 million

Bonneville Power Administration and WaferTech: $700,000

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act loan: $282,000

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant: $120,000

Washington State University Extension Energy Program Grant: $100,000

Total: $1.2 million

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday awarded Clark Public Utilities more than $400,000 toward a $1.2 million energy efficiency upgrade at WaferTech in Camas.

The award includes a $120,000 grant and a $282,000 loan funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Combined with other funding sources, it will help WaferTech buy and install a cooling tower that uses low outside air temperatures instead of energy-sucking electrical chillers to cool water used in manufacturing semiconductors.

“It’s definitely helping us keep our costs competitive in a global industry,” said Jim Short, director of facilities at WaferTech, a subsidiary of TSMC Co. that employs about 1,000 workers at its Camas facility.

Once complete, the project will save WaferTech about 5 megawatts of electricity per year, or about enough to power 3,500 homes, according to the Columbia River Economic Development Council. It will also save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on its electric bill — one of the company’s largest operating costs.

“There will be direct jobs associated with manufacturing and construction of the equipment, and longer term you just make the jobs at the plant more secure by making the plant more competitive,” said Bart Phillips, president of the development council.

The “free cooling” system will also serve as a test project for others in the semiconductor industry, which has been slow to adopt the technology, Phillips said.

WaferTech has considered undertaking the project for several years, but the company’s return on investment was at least five years away. With financing tight during the recession, most manufacturers won’t consider spending valuable capital on equipment that won’t pay off in less than a year, Phillips said.

The Recovery Act loan will be combined with a $100,000 Washington State University Extension Energy Program Grant and $700,000 from Bonneville Power Administration’s Energy Smart Industrial program and WaferTech to cover the full cost of the project.

The Washington Department of Commerce received 43 applications for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding and only 13 were chosen based on their energy savings and jobs created or retained, according to the development council.

WaferTech is the third Clark County company to receive stimulus funding, along with Renewable Energy Composite Solutions (RECS), which received a $1 million grant, and NCS Power, which received a $2.5 million low-interest loan last fall.