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Old coal plant on Fort Drum reopens as biomass facility

Joanna Richards

A once-idled coal plant on Fort Drum has been given new life. ReEnergy Black River is creating dozens of new jobs in the North Country – while maintaining a focus on the environment.

State and local officials gathered recently at the facility to celebrate its grand opening.

Over the past year and a half, New York-based company ReEnergy Holdings has retrofitted the plant on Fort Drum to burn biomass instead of coal. Its primary fuel will be wood chips, created from the waste of the nearby logging industry on the Tug Hill Plateau and southwestern Adirondacks.“It's a new source of renewable, home-grown and sustainable energy,” said Don Alexander, chief executive officer of the Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency. “It's an opportunity for greater security, energy security, for Fort Drum.”

Right now, the plant is under contract to provide energy to the electric grid. But company officials say it's in the midst of a procurement process with the Department of Defense to potentially provide all of Fort Drum's energy.

At peak usage times, in the summer, the Army post would use up only about one-third of the facility's energy capacity.

During a tour, plant officials showed off one of the features of the plant's retrofit that curbs its environmental footprint. A cooling tower dramatically reduces the amount of water the plant must draw from the Black River, instead recycling much of the water for reuse. And the cooling process means the water the plant does release is closer to the river's natural water temperature.

Larry Richardson is chief executive officer of ReEnergy Holdings. At the grand opening, he said the plant has earned certification under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Standard.

“It means that we have committed to only acquire fuel from quality companies that are using state-of-the-art best management practices out in the forest, to protect the environment, and to ensure that timber resource will be replenished,” he said.

ReEnergy's Black River facility is now the highest-capacity power plant among the company's fleet of nine. It was a priority project of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

The retrofit process created 178 jobs, and the plant will employ 33 people full-time during its regular operation. ReEnergy is also creating partnerships with the logging community, providing expensive wood chipping equipment on a lease-to-own basis to loggers, and supporting about 144 jobs in the field.

North Country Public Radio/North Country Reporter for the Innovation Trail
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