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California firm plans to buy coal-fired power plant in Falls

A California green-energy company plans to buy a 53-megawatt power plant in Niagara Falls and convert it to burning waste wood instead of coal.

U.S. Renewables Group in Santa Monica, Calif., has agreed to buy the generator on Frontier Avenue from owner WPS Resources Corp. for $30.2 million, the companies said Thursday.

"Our plan is to modify the plant so it can burn a greater percentage of biomass fuels," said Scott Gardner, a principal in U.S. Renewables.

The sale depends on approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state Public Service Commission, WPS said in a statement. The deal is expected to close in early 2007.

Currently burning 70 percent coal and 30 percent tire chips, the plant could replace coal with waste wood toward the end of 2007, Gardner said.

A multimillion-dollar modification will change conveyors and other fuel handling equipment.

Switching to wood will reduce sulfur and other emissions and earn environmental credits from the state, extending the plant's useful life, the company said. Green waste wood is availble from utility tree-trimming programs and from construction waste.

"The boiler is already set up to burn multiple fuels," Gardner said. The company expects the staff of about 15 to grow following the sale, he said.

Built in the 1990s as an industrial co-generation facility, the 53-megawatt plant currently sells its output on the wholesale market. U.S. Renewables hasn't selected a buyer for the power, Gardner said.

A megawatt of electricity is a million watts, enough to power 10,000 light bulbs at 100 watts each.

Seller WPS Resources is a Green Bay, Wis.-based power company with 477,000 electric customers and 669,000 gas customers at four utility subsidiaries in the Midwest.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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