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Ritchie, Senate Energy Committee chief back cogen’s biomass proposal

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OGDENSBURG — State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said Tuesday that she wants the owners of the 25-megawatt Ag Energy LP cogeneration plant at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to succeed in building a biomass boiler that would convert wood chips to electricity.

That electricity could be sold at low cost to the state hospital and the nearby Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, lawmakers say.

Mrs. Ritchie and state Senate Energy Committee Chairman George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, toured the plant Tuesday morning.

The plant currently provides free steam heat to the state hospital and the prison in exchange for operating rent-free on the state land.

Ag Energy LP Vice President of Operations Greg Sharland has said he envisions a small-scale microgrid electricity system that would sell power to the state over the duration of a 15-year contract. Mr. Sharland estimated it would cost $16 million to $18 million to build his microgrid.

The senators are all for it.

“I think it’s a priority to make sure that the cogen plant stays up and running,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

Mr. Maziarz agreed.

“I think it’s absolutely vital,” he said.

Mr. Maziarz also opposes a plan that would strip the state hospital of inpatient services and move those beds to Syracuse, Utica and Albany.

“It’s a huge mistake to close the psychiatric center,” the senator said.

Mr. Sharland has discussed the proposal with officials from the state Office of Mental Health.

He said he believes that getting the state hospital and prison off the grid and into a less expensive and cleaner setup will stop the state from shutting down the psychiatric center.

The senators said they will urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to consider Mr. Sharland’s biomass proposal.

Ag Energy still owes the city more than $500,000 in back taxes and utilities, including $228,000 in taxes that were due in June.

The City Council in August approved $2 million in short-term borrowing to avoid a city cash-flow crisis prompted in part by the delinquent Ag Energy bill.

City officials want the plant to remain viable due to its potential role as a low-cost power source for the city’s long-term economic development plans as well as for contributions to the state facilities.

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