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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Fort Drum will lose its source of energy if state lawmakers do not pass a bill pending in both legislative chambers.

Eight years ago, ReEnergy Black River LLC, the company that operates a $50 million biomass facility on post, secured a Department of Defense contract to provide 100% of Fort Drum’s electricity for the next 20 years.

But all of that will come to an end if state lawmakers do not pass a bill that would redesignate the facility as a renewable energy site. The state needs to reverse a 2019 law that left out biomass as renewable energy, company officials said.

If that continues, Larry D. Richardson, ReEnergy’s CEO, says he’ll be forced to shut down the mammoth facility.

Located inside the fence at Fort Drum, the biomass plant is providing Fort Drum’s electricity under a 20-year contract with the U.S. government through 2034.

“It provides energy security and resiliency to Fort Drum,” Mr. Richardson said.

The plant places Fort Drum at the forefront of the nation’s military goals for sustainability and protects it from disruptions from cyber attacks and natural disasters, he said.

Without the plant online, the only way that Fort Drum would get electricity is by connecting to unprotected transmission lines, Mr. Richardson said.

The bill has been introduced to the energy committees in both the Assembly and Senate.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R- Black River, and Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R- Heuvelton, are cosponsoring the bill.

Saying he’s proud of his support, Assemblyman Blankenbush thinks the biomass plant falls under “the renewable energies umbrella.”

“...We should be using a diverse portfolio in meeting those goals, including biomass. Grid reliability and effectiveness need to continue to be our top focus,” he said.

Sen. Ritchie said she will continue to work in support of its passage.

“From supporting local jobs to making Fort Drum more energy secure, the ReEnergy Black River facility provides a number of benefits to our region and our state as a whole,” Sen. Ritchie said. “Ensuring this biomass facility inside the gates of Fort Drum remains viable is critical.”

The bill also has the support from Fort Drum leaders, Mr. Richardson said.

Last year, the company unsuccessfully lobbied lawmakers to amend the 2019 law.

This time, however, the company hopes to get a standalone bill through the state Legislature that specifically points out the biomass plant is viable and deems the facility a renewable energy system.

ReEnergy Black River is optimistic about the bill’s passage since the majority in both state houses support it.

Sarah Boggess, the company’s vice president of external affairs, stressed the economic development importance of the biomass plant for the north country.

The company supports more than 300 jobs in the region and Central New York and provides $25 million directly to the economy.

ReEnergy Black River works with 80 companies to operate the plant, she said.

In 2019, the state enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, legislation that excluded bioenergy from the definition of “renewable energy.”

Biomass had been included in the state renewable energy policy since it was first adopted in 2004 and was viewed as targeting the state’s climate advancement for nearly 20 years, company officials said.

But a group of state lawmakers from New York City opposed biomass because they believe it harms the environment.

They don’t understand its benefits to the forestry industry and that it’s consistent with the Climate Act for emissions, Ms. Boggess said.

“I don’t think they understand it’s not a bad thing,” she said.

The company uses feedstock procurements that follow the Sustainability Forestry Initiative that are safe for the environment, Ms. Boggess said.

ReEnergy Black River also wants assurances from the state that it won’t change a 10-year contract for renewable energy credit, known as RECs. The contract expires in May 2023 and the company is requiring an extension, Mr. Richardson said.

“The project needs an extended contract with sufficiently priced RECs to remain viable,” according to the company.

Using 12,000 tons of material a week, the plant operates at 950 degrees and 1,500 pounds of pressure. At full load, the plant uses 25 tons of wood an hour.

ReEnergy acquired the idled coal-burning facility in December 2011 and invested more than $50 million before getting it online eight years ago. At the time, it was billed as a sign of energy independence for the military and economic development for the north country.

The nine-story plant consists of turbines, piping, conveyor belts and other equipment. The fuel goes through a complicated process until it’s converted into power.

(c)2022 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The entrance to Fort Drum, N.Y. is shown in this undated file photo.

The entrance to Fort Drum, N.Y. is shown in this undated file photo. (U.S. Army)

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