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Ritchie, Senate Energy Committee chief back cogen’s biomass proposal

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State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Senate Energy Committee Chairman George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, urged Tuesday that the owners of the 25-megawatt Ag Energy LP cogeneration plant on the grounds of the state-run St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center succeed in building a biomass boiler that would convert wood chips to electricity.

That electricity, they say, could be sold at low cost to the state hospital and the nearby Ogdensburg Correctional Facility.

The lawmakers toured the plant Tuesday morning.

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 has said he envisions a small-scale microgrid electricity system that would sell power to the state over the duration of a 15-year contract.

The senators are all for it.

“I think it’s a priority to make sure that the cogen plant stays up and running,” Mrs. Ritchie sad.

Mr. Maziarz agreed.

“I think it’s absolutely vital,” he said.

Mr. Maziarz also opposes a plan that would strip the state hospital of inpatient services, moving those beds to Syracuse, Utica and Albany.

“It’s a huge mistake to close the psychiatric center,” the senator said.

The plant currently provides free steam heat to the state hospital and the prison in exchange for paying no rent to the state.

Mr. Sharland figures it would cost $16 million to $18 million to build his microgrid. He has discussed the proposal with officials from the state Office of Mental Health. Getting the state hospital and prison off the grid and into a less expensive and cleaner setup, he is sure, will stop the state from shutting down the psychiatric center.

The senators said they will urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to consider Mr. Sharland’s biomass proposal.

Ag Energy still has an unpaid back taxes and utilities bill due the city of more than $500,000, including $228,000 in back 2012 taxes payment that were due in June.

The City Council approved in August a $2 million short-term borrowing to avoid a city cash flow crisis prompted in part by the delinquent Ag Energy bill.

City officials want the plant to remain viable due to its potential role as a low-cost power source for the city’s long-term economic development plans as well as for contributions to the state facilities.

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