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EXCLUSIVE: 20M tax dollars wasted as Canandaigua power plant sits idle

November 08, 2018 11:28 PM

When the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was building a renewable energy plant at the VA campus in Canandaigua, we were told it would save taxpayers a million dollars a year in energy costs.

This is a story News10NBC has been tracking for several years.

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On News10NBC at 6 p.m., we told you that after years of delays -- the project is now complete.

But that's not the end of the story.

After spending millions of your tax dollars to build the plant -- we uncovered, the VA now has no plans to use it.

This 10,000 square foot brick building on the VA campus in Canandaigua was designed and built to save you money. Instead, it's another illustration of how your tax dollars are wasted.

With a price tag between $15 and $20 million, this power plant has yet to be used.

It sits idle -- producing no energy and saving zero dollars.

"I had two trailers here that the contractors were working out of," said Chuck Tomes. 

Tomes lives next to the VA campus and watched as the plant took years to complete.

"It's a lot of money. It's an incredible amount of money and what they were supposed to save on it with fuel costs, and now they're not doing that. It just seems to be more money that they're wasting," added Tomes. 

Here's the background.

The project was funded in 2010 as part of the nation's stimulus plan.

The plant was to produce power by burning wood chips to create steam-powered energy otherwise known as a biomass system. But the project ran into repeated delays as the contractor and the government fought over building designs which led to litigation.

It has taken eight years which is about the same length of time it took to dig the Erie Canal.

But now the power plant is essentially complete.

So, why aren't they using it?

Recently, News10NBC returned to the VA campus to try and find out. 

A peek into the windows shows the plastic is still on the office chairs.

Employee: "Can I help you?"

News10NBC's Brett Davidsen: "My name is Brett Davidsen. I'm with News10NBC." 

Employee: "How are you?" 

Davidsen: "Very good. Trying to find somebody who can tell us the status of this plant."

Employee: "You'd have to speak with our public relations representative."  

Then, the VA police showed up.

After days of phone calls and emails, we finally got a response.

As it turns out, after spending millions of your tax dollars on this power plant, the VA has no plans to fire it up.

In an emailed statement, a VA spokesperson told News10NBC, "When construction of the project was initiated in 2010, natural gas prices were much higher than they are now, justifying the plant's design to run on biomass. Since then, natural gas prices have dropped, and we are evaluating the options for using the plant moving forward."

Congressman Chris Collins: "It is not economically viable."

On Thursday, News10NBC took what we learned to Congressman Collins who first got involved in trying to resolve the construction delays five years ago.

The frustration was clear in his voice.

Collins: "It was a waste and a boondoggle. I think they're now admitting it. They're gonna mothball it. Well, I wouldn't even mothball it. Take it apart. If you can get anything, pennies on the dollar for the equipment there, sell it off and just call it a day."

Twenty million of your tax dollars. Tomes wonders how that money could have been used to help veterans.

"We have a suicide call line here that I know they've had to outsource because they have so many calls to it. Could that money have been turned into the suicide hotline which could have benefited hundreds of thousands of people?"

News10NBC asked the VA for specifics about any plans they might be considering for the building. We also asked for an on-camera interview with the director.

However, they didn't respond to either of those requests.

Credits

Brett Davidsen

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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