Atlas Holdings to re-open Torrey power plant

John Christensen
The former AES power plant in Torrey has been purchased by Atlas Holdings of Connecticut.

Atlas Holdings plans to bring the Greenidge power plant near Dresden back on line, following its recent purchase of the 104-megawatt facility.

A press release from Atlas says the plan will restore more than 30 local jobs and will provide much-needed property tax revenues for the Town of Torrey, the Penn Yan Central School District, and Yates County once it is fully back on line this fall.

The plant, which would meet all current federal emission standards when reactivated, according to company officials, addresses the state’s fuel diversity needs, enhances reliability of the electrical grid and brings a host of environmental benefits. The company’s statement says by generating electricity without natural gas, Greenidge would reduce New York’s increasing reliance on natural gas for power generation, providing a low-cost source of power during peak heating season.

“We look forward to working with the town and county, as well as state regulators, to bring good jobs and revenues back to the local community while operating the plant in an environmentally sound manner,” said Timothy J. Fazio, Managing Partner of Atlas, which also owns Finch Paper in Glens Falls. “New York’s economy continues to improve, and we are demonstrating our confidence in the future by investing here in Yates County. We plan on being good neighbors for years to come.”

Yates County Legislative Chairman Dr. Timothy Dennis calls the news “pretty exciting.” He has written letters of support for Atlas’s permit applications to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Tom Reed, saying the company has to secure those state and federal permits to re-open the plant.

Town of Torrey Supervisor Pat Flynn says the buyer seem optimistic and hope to have the plant operational in the fall.

Town of Torrey Council Member John Martini says, “From a Town of Torrey perspective and for the schools and Yates County, this is a welcome reopening. It means jobs and taxes. Even though it’s coal, it’s much cleaner burning than other plants out there. I’m very comfortable with that, and I welcome it.” Martini also mentioned the possibility the plant could convert to gas from the Empire Pipeline which runs within five miles of Greenidge and has an unused tap for just such a conversion.

Fellow board member Colby Petersen says, “I’m excited and will be more so once the permits are cleared. The reports of the progress sound very optimistic.” Petersen says Atlas has promised the town they will only be using the ash landfill for ash generated at Greenidge, and they will try to incorporate more locally produced bio-matter in their firing. Atlas also stated to the town that the options for fuels was one of the attributes that made Greenidge attractive. “They want to be flexible in the sources they are using to combat the market they are facing,” says Petersen.

The Greenidge Power Plant was owned for years by AES Energy Eastern, L.P., which invested $50 million in 2006 to retrofit and environmentally upgrade the plant as part of the Federal Department of Energy’s Clean Coal program. As a result, it has one of the most up-to-date air emission control systems of any Northeast coal plant. In addition, Greenidge has the capacity to fire with up to 10 percent woody biomass, a clean-burning renewable fuel, with equipment installed in 2009 at a cost of $9 million.

As a result of the upgrades completed under the Clean Coal program, the plant has emission removal rates of 95 percent for mono-nitrogen (NOx) oxides and sulfur dioxide (SO2 )and 99 percent for mercury.

RGGI Payment

As part of bringing the plant back on line, Atlas will pay over $2 million to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to resolve a debt owed by the former owner of Greenidge related to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) credit program. AES Eastern Energy, an Ithaca-based subsidiary of AES Corp., filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Dec. 30, 2011, and the liquidation of that bankruptcy estate did not provide any proceeds to the DEC.

Before its closure, AES Eastern Energy just negotiated a reduction of Greenidge’s PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) with Yates County and the Town of Torrey. From the originally agreed $1.1 million annual payment when it was operable, AES EE paid just $600,000 in 2012 and was to pay $400,000 in 2013, but did not. This March, back fire district taxes of less than $38,000 were paid to Torrey, and some payments owed on parcels were made to the schools and county, but nothing approaching the agreed PILOT amount.

Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center says FLEDC has worked with Atlas for a long time to get this agreement. “I couldn’t be more excited,” says Griffin. “It’s a great first step, and that first step is a doozy! These are 30 good paying jobs, and it is a huge tax improvement for the county, the schools, and the town.” He also says there will be downstream economic benefits as local companies contract with Atlas for services such as trucking.

“From an economic development standpoint, this is huge,” Griffin says. “Had we not found a buyer (for Greenidge) we don’t know what we would have done with that massive site. We’ve been very impressed with Atlas and the investment they’ve already made. It’s an impressive company.”

Emission Reduction Credits

In concert with bringing the plant back on line, Atlas will purchase and retire an amount of Emission Reduction Credits (ERCs) in excess of the total annual emissions of Greenidge. Retiring these ERCs would permanently prevent them from being used to offset new emission sources, effectively reducing the total permitted air pollution emissions in New York over the long-term.

Electricity and Natural Gas Market Impact

Atlas officials say bringing Greenidge back on line is expected to moderate peak electricity prices and natural gas prices by adding 104 megawatts of capacity to the state’s electricity supply without increasing reliance on natural gas. Peak electricity prices spike in the winter largely as a result of New York’s heavy reliance on natural gas for electricity generation, they say. The combination of demands for natural gas for heating and electricity generation along with the limited natural gas delivery infrastructure results in high natural gas and electricity prices for all consumers. This winter, these spikes were especially extreme, with wholesale electricity prices in January and February 2014 averaging 85 percent higher than the same period of 2013. The extreme prices, which impacted businesses and consumers throughout New York, resulted not only from unusually cold temperatures, but because New York’s generating fleet is more dependent than ever on natural gas after the mothballing or conversion of several oil- and coal-fired power plants over the past several years. Adding 104 megawatts of clean, efficient coal-fired generating capacity will moderate New York’s dependence on natural gas and its limited natural gas transportation infrastructure, mitigating extreme price spikes during future peak heating seasons.

Atlas Holdings LLC is an industrial holding company headquartered in Greenwich, Conn. For more information, visit www.atlasholdingsllc.com.