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At Fort Drum stop, Cuomo supports biomass project for post’s energy needs

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FORT DRUM — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday that he supports an Albany-area company’s effort to sell its renewable energy to the home of the 10th Mountain Division.

“We believe that this would be one of the first military bases to contract for power from a plant that’s a renewable-energy plant,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference following his tour of the idled coal-fired plant, which is being retrofitted to burn wood products left over from the local logging industry. “That would be exciting and precedent-setting.”

Mr. Cuomo said he was sending Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta a letter later on Monday urging him to approve a contract between the Army and ReEnergy Holdings. The new 60-megawatt ReEnergy plant would be able to provide all of the post’s energy needs and is expected create 300 jobs in the north country. The biomass facility is scheduled to open in early 2013, after the company invests $30 million in improvements. The company will also purchase $11 million in wood products annually from local producers.

Standing behind a lectern, under massive pipes stretching across the dimly lit, cavernous facility, Mr. Cuomo said the project illustrated his administration’s approach to economic development.

“This is exactly what we’ve been talking about: making New York open for business again,” he said.

Larry D. Richadson, the CEO of ReEnergy, said that Mr. Cuomo’s advocacy “will undoubtedly be helpful.”

“While the rest of the country is stuck in a lot of partisan gridlock, New York is charging ahead,” Mr. Richardson said from prepared remarks. “We can say without equivocation that this is a new New York, and we’re proud to be part of that story.”

The project has received broad support from local, state and federal officials. It received a property tax break from the town of LeRay, the Carthage Central School District and Jefferson County. It also received a contract to sell renewable energy credits to the state, and will be able to apply for tax-exempt bonds with the state’s blessing after being identified as a north country regional “priority project.”

The Defense Department is still deliberating on the contract, Mr. Richardson said.

Mr. Richardson said that the company does not have to go through the state’s new Article X permitting process, because the coal plant already had the necessary permits to operate.

Article X has been a touchy subject among many in the north country, including the two state legislators who accompanied Mr. Cuomo on his tour, Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River. The legislators voted against the new Article X legislation.

The law, passed overwhelmingly in 2011 despite north country opposition, will allow an Albany-based commission to make decisions about where power plants should be situated. That includes many wind-power projects. Siting decisions had been in the hands of local governments, and opposition has slowed to a halt development in some communities.

Local governments will have input under Article X, Mr. Cuomo said.

“Unless we want to go back to candles, we need energy,” Mr. Cuomo said, adding later: “The Article X law is, I believe, an intelligent balance between local input, but still a process that can be done and can be done expeditiously.”

Mr. Cuomo stopped short of endorsing a local government’s ability to veto a project during Article X proceedings, suggesting that opposition on the local level will be balanced against the merits of a project.

“I think home rule is very important, where a locality decides their destiny,” Mr. Cuomo said. “There also has to be a reasonableness. We also have to remember at the end of the day that we need power. If you’re not constructing power plants or renewable plants or siting anything, you can’t power an economy. You can’t say no to wind and no to solar and no to biomass and no to power plants and then say, ‘I want jobs and a thriving economy.’”

Though it didn’t come up in Mr. Cuomo’s speech, a contract between ReEnergy and the Department of Defense to provide power to Fort Drum could further imperil the development of one wind farm proposal on Lake Ontario.

The Upstate New York Power Corp., which wants to construct a 252-megawatt wind power project on Galloo Island, has said that it will try to sell its power to Fort Drum.

And though he didn’t mention it by name, Mr. Richardson said that his company’s project was the sensible option, “rather than a project that has local opposition.”

The wind power project would have meant millions in payments to local governments and school boards, but some residents of the Thousand Islands are concerned about the effect that wind power projects could have on wildlife and the region’s scenic views.

Thomas L. Hagner, the company’s president, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

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