Rochester, N.Y. – Kodak’s power plant generates power for 35 companies at Eastman Business Park. The plant is vital to the park’s operations, producing the energy and steam needed for industrial operations.
“I liken it to Fairport Electric. People like to move there because they get cheap power,” said Ken Warner of Unicon. “It’s the same thing with businesses. These days power is a very important thing for businesses choosing to come to a place.”
The power plant, located in Building 321 off Ridgeway Avenue, is the only remaining coal-burning plant in Monroe County. Although Kodak has reduced emissions from the plant considerably, it does not meet upcoming federal and state standards. The deadline to meet those standards is at the end of 2014.
With Kodak in bankruptcy, the fate of the power plant is a serious concern to local, state and federal officials.
“No one is exactly sure how much it’s going to cost,” Warner said. “Estimates range somewhere between $40 million and $60 million.”
Senator Charles Schumer estimates the plant needs “tens of millions” of dollars in upgrades.
“If Kodak were a sprawling industrial giant, they'd have the money to make some of the upgrades that are needed. Obviously they can't do that,” said Schumer. “To close down the power facility, not make it available, not let it expand for new businesses, would be counterproductive.”
Sources say one potential buyer of the park – US Renewables Group – backed out after learning about the required upgrades. That company planned to build a clean energy plant at Eastman Business Park. The project had been listed as a top priority of the Regional Economic Development Council. For now, USRG is staying away. A company official did not return several calls for comment.
Warner, whose agency was involved in talks, confirms a potential buyer walked away. “You can’t sell it to a private investor when you have a situation where they’re going to have to invest a terrific amount of money within two years to keep that plant going.”
Michael Alt, director of Eastman Business Park, would not confirm a potential sale fell through. “Right now, there are no bona fide bids for Eastman Business Park…We don’t have anybody looking to buy the park right now.”
Schumer has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to relax some regulations. He’s also investigating low-interest loans that could help Kodak or some other entity make the upgrades.
Alt, said the company doesn’t know how much upgrades will cost or if Kodak would be able to make the investment. “I don’t know that it’s a huge concern…We’re very committed. There are certainly upgrades. Those are all manageable.”
Kodak has spent $200 million to transform the 1,200-acre Eastman Business Park from a photographic manufacturing facility into a modern industrial site. But local development officials are worried more work has to be done.
“They’ve done a huge amount of work to repurpose the park, but we’re in a different place now,” said Mark Peterson of Greater Rochester Enterprise. “They don’t have the flexibility to spend additional dollars to repurpose that park to ready it for sale without permission from the bankruptcy court.”
Peterson said the state is expected to do an evaluation of Eastman Business Park, assessing the cost of upgrades and the value of the complex.
“We’ve got to understand that that’s going to cost, who’s going to do it, what’s the plan, how do we make sure that that park is fully-utilized as the asset it could be for the community,” said Peterson.
Warner likens it to the state investment in Midtown Plaza. No one would touch Midtown because of the asbestos issues. The state spent $55 million to tear it down and get it ready for development. He believes taxpayer investment will be necessary with Eastman Business Park.
“If they’re unable to use coal-fired plants two years from now because of EPA regulations, then all of that goes away,” said Warner. “You put in danger not only the opportunity to bring businesses here but you may put in jeopardy the businesses that are already there.”