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Biomass facility on Fort Drum officially opens on Friday

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FORT DRUM — The prospects of economic growth and job creation were touted Friday as a new biomass power plant officially opened on post.

The 60-megawatt ReEnergy Black River facility, a former coal plant, will run off wood products and forestry residues that otherwise would be discarded. The plant provides renewable power to the area surrounding the post, and was selected to sell renewable energy credits to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

The company’s goal is to sell power to the post.

Larry D. Richardson, CEO of ReEnergy Holdings LLC, Albany, which owns the facility, said during a media event that the company had a challenging time getting the site ready after buying it in March 2012. ReEnergy spent about $34 million converting the site.

“We are very pleased to have reached this milestone today,” Mr. Richardson said.

Business leaders from the area said the company’s collaboration with government agencies made the facility’s quick conversion possible.

“These things do not just happen,” said Francis J. Murray Jr., NYSERDA’s president and CEO. “They require the type of partnership between the private sector, government and academia that’s represented here today.”

Mr. Richardson said 33 people will be employed full time at the facility, with an additional 144 workers in logging crews collecting forest residue. The company will purchase about $11 million in wood a year from local logging companies. It also has acquired several new wood chippers that it is making available to 14 logging companies in a lease-to-own program.

One company benefitting from the facility and the wood chipper program is Seaway Timber Harvesting Inc., Massena. Patrick J. Curran, president of both the company and Curran Renewable Energy, said he now can sell 60,000 tons of tree bark and limbs that his operations produce annually but that previously were unusable.

“We always scattered it,” Mr. Curran said. “At a lot of places landowners didn’t want it.”

He said his company would add 10 to 15 hourly jobs in processing and transporting the previously unusable wood to the facility.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said the plant would provide family logging businesses security for future generations.

Speakers on Friday also promoted the facility’s sustainability, with Mr. Richardson announcing that it had met the Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s 2010-14 Standard, which promotes responsible forestry. A Sustainable Forestry Initiative official at the event said ReEnergy is the first energy production company to receive the designation.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said the change from coal power to biomass power reduced the amount of material going to area landfills and cut emissions of mercury and sulfur dioxide.

A large amount of government support has been in place for the facility, including a payment in lieu of taxes agreement from the town of LeRay, Carthage Central School District and Jefferson County.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement Friday that the facility was a sign of success for regional economic development councils, and “represents the future of energy in New York state.”

ReEnergy officials now must wait and see whether the facility will be selected to provide the post with renewable power.

The Defense Logistics Agency-Energy is reviewing bids to supply power to the post for a period of 10 years or as many as 25 years, a contract that could be worth tens of millions of dollars over the course of the deal. The request for bids stems from a mandate in the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for 25 percent of the energy used by the Department of Defense to come from renewable sources.

When the agency discussed the contract at an informational session in January in Watertown, the site was one of two areas on post presented as usable for the creation of sustainable power such as biomass.

The agency said in January that its decision is anticipated between July and September.

After the media presentation, Mr. Richardson said he was optimistic about his company’s chances of winning the contract because the plant’s capacity was double the post’s peak usage of about 30 megawatts, and its placement and local supply source meant it could be considered a more secure source of power.

None of the leaders of the 10th Mountain Division attended the grand opening. During his remarks, Mr. Richardson attributed their absence as “respecting the integrity of the procurement process.”

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