New owner's goal for Pittsfield's waste-to-energy plant: expand its 'economic life'

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PITTSFIELD — The new owner of Pittsfield's waste-to-energy plant on Hubbard Avenue is planning no changes to the 38-year-old facility, and is interested in having one of the country's oldest such facilities remain economically viable for a long time.

"Our goal is to expand the economic life of the facility and work closely with the communities and the clients that we currently serve," said Richard J. Fish, the president and CEO of Community Eco Power LLC of Black Mountain, N.C., which purchased the plant from New Jersey-based Covanta Energy Corp. last month.

As part of maintaining the status quo, Fish said Community Eco Power has retained the plant's entire 27-member staff, a move that was expected when the new owners took over, Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer said last month.

Chet Halek, the plant's facilities manager, has been employed there for 29 years. The average age of the workforce at the plant is 50.

"The workforce is very stable," Fish said. "There's not a lot of turnover."

As the new owner, Community Eco Power also has assumed Covanta's current contract with the city of Pittsfield, which expires June 30, 2020. The company intends to bid for a new license when the contract comes up for renewal.

"That's the plan," Fish said. "We're going to continue a long-term relationship."

Fish declined to disclose the plant's purchase price, but said the sale closed May 15, and that Community Eco Power took over operations the next day. A deed has yet to be filed with the Middle Berkshire Registry of Deeds in Pittsfield. But the name of the entity that owns the facility was changed from Covanta Pittsfield LLC to Community Eco Pittsfield LLC on May 20, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State's Office. Fish is listed as the company's CEO on those documents.

Siena Lending Group, of Stamford, Conn., recently completed a $3 million asset-based credit facility that allowed Community Eco Power to acquire two Covanta plants, in Pittsfield and Springfield, and support the company's working capital needs, according to abladvisor.com.

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"I've known the Covanta guys for over 20 years," Fish said. "I've had other actions with them in other business ventures that I've been involved in."

Community Eco Power is a company made up of veterans of the waste-to-energy industry that was formed specifically to purchase Covanta's plants in Pittsfield and Springfield, according to Fish.

"We formally formed the company in March," Fish said. "That's when we actually entered into the purchase-and-sale agreement with Covanta."

Covanta decided to put its Pittsfield and Springfield plants on the market because they were much smaller than the 70 other facilities the publicly traded company operates worldwide, CEO Stephen J. Jones said in a recent conference call with investors. Covanta had owned Pittsfield's plant since 2007.

"Covanta is going through a strategic realization and is really more focused on the larger plants that do 1,000 tons a day," Fish said. "The smaller plants were not their core. They're not poor, but for companies like us, they have good environmental performance and a good solid workforce. So, they are a good fit for us.

"The plant has a long history, a very long history of safety," he said. "Its environmental record for a waste-to-energy facility is very good. It's a very stable-cash-flow business. It's something that, again, because of their size, are just not important to a big company like Covanta. But for us, it can be a focal point. We can optimize them more and extend the life of the facility."

Although it is based outside Asheville, N.C., Community Eco Power already has stationed some executives in the Berkshires. Lynwood Buber, the company's chief operating officer, and vice president of operations Ron Suder, who also are veterans of the waste-to-energy industry, are living in Sandisfield.

"They're on the ground at both facilities every day," Fish said.

Pittsfield's waste-to-energy plant was built in 1981 by Vicon Construction Co. Covanta assumed control 12 years ago when it purchased Energy Answers, which had bought the plant from Vicon in 1994.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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