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Biomass plant on Fort Drum could close next spring

Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 4:22 PM EDT
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FORT DRUM, New York (WWNY) - A biomass plant that provides Fort Drum with 100 percent of its energy could close next year after legislation supporting its operations failed to make it through Albany.

The 32 employees who work at the biomass facility on Fort Drum were told this week that come next spring they may not have a job.

“We had to close our facility in Franklin County in Chateaugay and another one in Lewis County in Lyonsdale so it’s never easy,” said

Sarah Boggess, ReEnergy vice president of external affairs.

She and her staff at ReEnergy have been in talks with crew members at ReEnergy Black River.

The 60-megawatt biomass facility on Fort Drum may be the next to go after state legislation, that would recognize biomass as renewable energy, failed to pass.

“There are certain people in New York state who don’t see it as we do so it has been a frustrating experience,” said Boggess.

By excluding biomass from being classified as renewable energy, the facility may close when its current contract with the Department of Defense ends in May 2023.

Currently, ReEnergy buys fuel material and wood chips from local lumber yards and sawmills, transferring them into energy used on post. It generates 100 percent of Fort Drum’s power, a rarity for many military installations.

State Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R. - 117th District) and Senator Patty Ritchie (R. - 48th District) have sponsored bills to fight for the facility to stay open.

“It is deeply disappointing that the majority refused to let our bill even advance through the committee process. Biomass should and must be part of our future energy portfolio; grid reliability depends on it,” said Blankenbush.

“In the weeks ahead, I am committed to doing all I can to support ReEnergy’s efforts to pursue a remedy with the New York State Public Service Commission that will allow the plant to continue to operate,” said Ritchie.

Assemblyman Mark Walczyk (R. - 116th District) said, “Look at the whole scope of the grid and have some common sense when it comes to things like renewable energy credits for a company like ReEnergy.”

As the fight happens at the state level, it likely wouldn’t end there.

In U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormouth’s climate strategy plan, it states the Army is committed to 100% carbon-pollution-free electricity to meet the needs of its installations by 2030. That wouldn’t include biomass.

Boggess says ReEnergy will be petitioning the state’s Public Service Commission as it tries to keep the plant open.

As for its employees, Boggess says if the plant closes, workers will get severance packages and help in finding new jobs. Fort Drum would go back to relying on National Grid for its energy needs.

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