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Ogdensburg cogeneration plant may turn to biomass to secure extended state contract

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OGDENSBURG — Wood chips may be the savior of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center.

The owners of the 25-megawatt Ag Energy LP cogeneration plant located on the grounds of the state-run psychiatric center are proposing to build a biomass boiler that would convert wood chips to electricity that could be sold at low cost to the state hospital and the nearby Ogdensburg Correctional Facility.

The plant currently provides free steam heat to the state hospital and the prison in exchange for existing rent-free on the state land.

Ag Energy LP Vice President of Operations Greg Sharland envisions a small-scale microgrid electricity system that would sell power to the state over the duration of a 15-year contract.

“We’re looking at a capital investment of $16 million to $18 million,” he said Friday, adding that the terms of the contract would be framed to recoup his investment.

Mr. Sharland has discussed his proposal with officials from the state Office of Mental Health. No commitment has been made, but he hopes that getting the state hospital and the prison off the grid and into his cheaper, cleaner system will keep the state from shutting down the psychiatric center

“Long term, we are trying to offer a solution to the state of New York,” Mr. Harland said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said City Manager John M. Pinkerton. “The state would have its own mini-microgrid.”

Ag Energy still has an unpaid back taxes and utilities bill due the city totaling $544,000. That includes a $228,000 in back 2012 taxes payment that was due in June.

In June, the City Council on Monday voted 7-0 in favor of a $2 million short-term borrowing to avoid a city cash flow crisis prompted in part by the delinquent Ag Energy bill.

City officials have not been eager to foreclose on the plant, due in part to what as viewed as a vital role the plant’s low-cost power generation could play in the city’s long-term economic development strategy and its contributions to the state facilities.

Mr. Pinkerton said in June that the city does not have the know-how to operate a power plant. He said city officials would continue working with the facility to get it back on line and help it secure a long-term power contract with the state.

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