Limitations in electrical infrastructure may force robotic greenhouse grower Agbotic Inc. to find another home for its future $30 million expansion.
Company CEO John P. Gaus said he wants to build 20 to 30 more automated greenhouses at his County Route 75 farm, a project that will require at least 100 acres of additional land. The expansion would dovetail off of the organic grower’s other five new greenhouses that have been under construction since July.
However, National Grid’s existing power equipment in the Sackets Harbor area (New York, United States), including overhead wires and other components, cannot deliver the electricity Agbotic needs for the future project, according to letters sent to Mr. Gaus last month from one of the utility’s local managers, Jerry Haenlin.
Agbotic needs 6 to 9 additional megawatts of power for the expansion, but National Grid spokeswoman Virginia J. Limmiatis said in an email that energy needs of that size are too large for distribution circuits serving typical residential and commercial users like the one near the local producer’s location.
“In the world of utilities as large as National Grid and large agriculture and industrial users, those are not big numbers,” Mr. Gaus said Monday in reference to his expansion power need. “We have to be able to buy property, but before we buy property, we need to know that we have adequate utility service.”
National Grid could build new infrastructure to deliver the additional 6 to 9 megawatts of electricity for Agbotic’s multimillion-dollar expansion, but at a high cost.
Mr. Haenlin wrote in his Jan. 31 letter that Agbotic could have to pay $10 million, which is a rough estimate, to the utility for a customer-owned substation and to extend an existing 23-kilovolt sub-transmission line eight miles away in Watertown. Determining a more accurate cost estimate could last a couple of months after Mr. Gaus submits a formal request for service. Then designing, permitting, testing and construction could take one and a half to two years, Mr. Haenlin wrote.
“Fairness and regulatory requirements demand that regardless of where on the system a customer connects to the National Grid electricity network, the customer is required to pay for any excess construction that is required to serve their anticipated electric load,” Ms. Limmiatis said. “This ensures that costs required to serve that sole customer are not a burden to other ratepayers on National Grid’s system.”
Agbotic, however, planned to begin building the 20 to 30 greenhouses this summer, Mr. Gaus said. The local entrepreneur also said he and his investors have no plans to invest an additional $10 million into the project.
Mr. Haenlin wrote in his Jan. 31 letter that “there are many sites in the north country” near transmission lines that could support his project, including the 23-kilovolt line and a 115-kilovolt line six miles away in Adams Center. Mr. Gaus, however, said further discussion with the utility revealed that his company would still need to invest additional revenue for infrastructure needed to provide energy for the project.
If Agbotic cannot build its multimillion-dollar expansion, which could create 35 jobs, without waiting a couple of years of expending millions of dollars more than anticipated, Mr. Gaus said he will have to relocate the project, possibly outside of the north country. The company has already begun exploring alternative locations.
“Our company was founded in the north country. It employs north country residents and we hope to continue expanding in the north country,” Mr. Gaus said. “But if National Grid makes it impossible for us to expand, we’ll be forced to expand elsewhere.”
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Photo credit: Agbotic, Inc