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Riverhead may partner up on $22M facility to convert food waste into natural energy

CEA Energy LLC envisions turning waste from farms, eateries, hospitals and other sources into compressed natural gas for National Grid pipelines, and fertilizer.

The former Riverhead Town Animal Shelter in Riverhead

The former Riverhead Town Animal Shelter in Riverhead where Global Water Engineering is proposing a partnership with Riverhead in which they would build a waste-to-energy plant. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Riverhead officials appear to be open to a proposed 25,000-square-foot facility in Calverton that would convert food waste to natural gas.

Melville-based CEA Energy LLC focuses on diverting food waste from landfills and incinerators to make natural gas to be used as alternative energy. The company is proposing a $22 million food waste-to-energy facility along about 5 acres on Youngs Avenue at the site of the former town animal shelter.

Because plant representatives are seeking a state grant that would pay for up to 25 percent of the capital costs, they asked the Riverhead Town Board to introduce a resolution at its Feb. 20 regular meeting to support partnering with CEA Energy to build the plant as part of the state's grant requirements before moving forward.

The board agreed to place the resolution on the agenda.

Mark Lembo, CEO and managing partner for the company, said Friday that it is difficult — and expensive — for food carters such as farms and grocery stores to haul food waste away for disposal, particularly due to the closing years ago of Riverhead Town's landfill and Brookhaven’s landfill prohibiting food waste from going there.

“We are a rural community, and there is a lot of food waste from farms, grocery stores, hospitals, supermarkets, whatever it may be,” said Lembo, 68, of Riverhead.

Costs food carters would have to pay for disposing of that waste are estimated to be about $200 per ton, according to figures Lembo and representatives from Global Water Engineering — which will provide the technology for the plant — presented to the board at its Feb. 14 work session.

The Youngs Avenue plant would convert the waste into compressed natural gas that would be put into pipelines for National Grid. Fertilizers would also be able to be produced from the waste for sale.

“This would be a local facility that would cut those costs by between 50 to 70 percent,” Lembo said.

The plant is predicted to generate up to $4 million annually in shared revenue between the town and CEA Energy — with each party receiving $2 million apiece — and about $100 million in shared revenue over 25 years, Lembo said. The town would be asked to provide the land and pay for permitting costs. The costs of building the plant would be covered by several grants and other sources, Lembo said.

Town Councilman James Wooten and Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said they liked the proposal.

“It seems like a no-brainer,” Wooten said. “I’m glad that they picked that location … I think it’s a perfect fit with the recycling center next door.”

Jens-Smith said the public-private partnership aspect of the project would offset the costs for taxpayers and provide local energy.

“Not only does it get the waste out, but it provides the energy we need,” she said.

Richard Amper, executive director of Riverhead-based environmental advocacy group the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said he had not seen any adverse environmental impacts the project might cause, adding he would “certainly be paying attention to [the plant] as it goes forward.”

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