NY state budget could rescue Fort Drum’s biomass plant
Biomass is no longer considered a source of renewable energy by the state, which is why ReEnergy decided to wind down operations at the $50 million (€45.8m), 60-megawatt facility at the end of March.
At that time, the plant provided 100% of power on the post.
New legislation - specific to Fort Drum - is forming part of the state budget discussions, which could keep the plant afloat.
It states: “Renewable energy systems means systems that generate electricity or thermal energy through use of forest biopower that is operational as of December 31st, 2022.”
John Bartow, Empire State Forest products association executive director, observed the bill is simply saying "'we'll consider this facility at this location to be a renewable energy system'".
However, this alone will not save the plant, according to Bartow.
The Public Service Commission would need to extend its renewable energy credit, which expired on 31 March, to keep the facility running.
“It doesn’t guarantee that the Public Service Commission is going to then turn around and issue that Tier 2 maintenance credit,” he said.
As the plant winds down its operation, 28 full-time workers will be let go. ReEnergy said it supports 300 direct and indirect jobs and spends $25 million (€22.9m) annually as it buys wood chips and scraps.
“There’s over 250 loggers and haulers that are involved in that. It’s a huge outlet for low-grade materials being extracted from our forests. There are a lot of loggers and haulers here that are impacted here, some of which will go out of business,” said Bartow.
Before ReEnergy came to Fort Drum, local paper mills like ones in Carthage and Deferiet, took those low-grade materials. The mills are long gone and it left a void.
“Probably even a larger amount than ReEnergy’s doing now. But ReEnergy, when it came in 10 years ago, kind of picked up a big chunk of that market,” said Bartow.
US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been lobbying state officials to let the biomass plant stay open, arguing having Fort Drum be energy independent is a national security issue.
Laura Haight, US policy director with the Partnership for Policy and Integrity, disagreed.
“If this were a real national security issue, you would think that the Army would be paying the extra cost of maintaining that plant, not trying to push it over to New York state to fund it without renewable energy dollars,” she said.
ReEnergy stated there is a very small window in the days ahead to stop the plant’s shutdown. But it will be dependent on an agreement on the state budget, with the two timelines potentially not aligning.