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Biomass plant on Fort Drum officially opens, but no deal with Drum yet

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Biomass plant on Fort Drum officially opens, but no deal with Drum yet
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It took a little over a year, but the former coal plant on Fort Drum is now back open. However, it's been converted to produce renewable energy, biomass. As our Brian Dwyer reports, ReEnergy, the company that now owns it also made a big announcement, but it wasn't the one most people thought it would be.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- It's been more than a year since ReEnergy, a company out of Albany, bought the old coal plant on Fort Drum. And $34 million later, on Friday, it officially opened as a biomass plant. Renewable energy in the North Country.

"The wood that we're using as fuel, up to this point in time, has been left on the forest floor. When logging companies go out to harvest trees," ReEnergy CEO Larry Richardson said.

"Sixty-eight million tons of forest waste provides additional income for the forestry industry that otherwise would be basically waste wood," NYS DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said.

The plant is capable of producing 60 megawatts of power. That's enough for some 60,000 homes. It's providing 33 fulltime jobs and supports about another 145 more with crews out in the woods.

"Environmental Impact is a formula for success when you're talking about economic development," NYSERDA President & CEO Francis Murray said.

"Fort Drum is essential," Tony Collins, Clarkson President and North Country Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chair said. "Recognizing the economic engine that it is, certainly if a BRAC comes or something like that. If there's ever a debate, there will be a very loud voice in the North Country."

But the opening wasn't all. ReEnergy also announcing it's the first pure electricity producer to be certified to 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 that timber resource will be replenished," Richardson said.

But that is not the announcement that many thought ReEnergy would be making here Friday. The company is very close to getting a deal done with the Department of Defense to provide all of Fort Drum's power needs. But the company says a deal has not yet been reached.

"We have been expecting that there might be some announcement or award here in the next couple of months," Richardson added.

Richardson says it's not a do or die for the plant, but would be about a third of the facility's output.

About 180 jobs were created when the building was being converted from coal to biomass. We're told the plant will create 300 or so jobs either directly or indirectly.

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