SEH to access more water

New water rights could lead to more production, expansion

Washington’s Department of Ecology approved additional water rights for SEH America, which would assist the silicon wafer manufacturer in moving from production of 8-inch silicon wafers to 12-inch silicon wafers at its facility in Orchards.

The Japanese parent company of SEH has said it is looking to invest $1 billion worldwide to expand operations and begin manufacturing 12-inch wafers, which could include the Vancouver plant.

Silicon wafers are used to make computer microchips for electronic devices. Once purified, water is used several times throughout the manufacturing process to clean the wafers. Having access to more water is crucial to any new production, said Steve Stenberg, SEH director of facilities.

“The use is tied pretty closely to any possible expansion,” he said. “It’s a key component … (and) one of the basic utilities we need to be able to expand.”

The expanded water rights builds on attempts by the state to lure high-tech investments here. Recently-passed legislation would give SEH tax incentives for investing more than $350 million to expand production. In a statement, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the combination of the tax incentive and water rights approval shows the state is doing its part to keep the company’s business here. Stenberg agreed.

“The state is being very proactive in trying to attract new investment here,” he said.

Ecology’s decision allows SEH America to use up to an additional 2,000 gallons of water per minute, doubling it is allowable use. The water will come from a deep underground aquifer, 900 feet below ground level at the plant site. Stenberg said the decision is the result of a long process to gain access to additional water.

The water access meets the nearly finalized Lewis/Salmon-Washougal watershed management plan to withdraw any new water from the deep aquifer to protect flows in nearby streams. SEH must monitor the aquifer to ensure water levels are not harmed.

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