Bio-energy project to meet deadline

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., visits Synergy in Covington, Wyoming County, in November. At left is Lauren Toretta, vice president of CH4 Biogas, and at right, John Noble, an owner of Synergy Dairy. / Photo provided by Sen. Charles Schumer’s Office

Bio-energy project to meet deadline

Diana Louise Carter for Democrat and Chronicle: COVINGTON — It's a happy New Year after all for Synergy LLC, a multi-million dollar biodigester that was facing the loss of critical federal energy tax credits if it wasn't up and running by year's end.

"We're in the middle of start-up right now," said Paul Toretta, CEO of CH4 Biogas, the operator of the Synergy biodigester. "National Grid has a person waiting at the substation. We're going to make it."

The Synergy LLC project in this Wyoming County town had been in jeopardy because National Grid told the project's owners in the fall that it would be unable to complete hook-up to the power lines until March, delaying startup.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer intervened in November, urging the multi-national energy company to cooperate so the project wouldn't miss its deadline for tax credits, causing it to fail.

"I'm thrilled National Grid has heeded the call and that the project is back on track to be connected  to the grid by the end of the week," Schumer said in a prepared statement. "When I visited the site last month, the potential for biodigesters was plain as day, and I'm going to do everything I can to keep supporting this project in Covington, and future projects throughout the state."

The project has to produce energy by the end of 2011 in order to qualify for $2.8 million in renewable energy credits.

The project's costs had been $5 million by the end of November.

At least two other projects were endangered, too, if this one didn't go through, explained Toretta. CH4 is working on similar projects elsewhere in Wyoming County and the North Country, he said, and the company's funders had questioned whether CH4 would be able to deliver.

"The problem always is you have to produce. You've got to hit your dates, ... make your mortgage payments," Toretta said.

The 1.4-megawatt plant would be the largest on-farm biodigester in the state once it's fully operational.

It digests a combination of manure and food wastes to produce methane, a gas that is burned to run a generator to produce electricity.

Regional economic development experts have identified development of alternate energy sources as a key economic driver for the Finger Lakes region.