The electric power to operate CEI’s ATGs comes from the New York Power Authority (NYPA). This massive hydro facility is co-located on the Massena industrial park. It is now greatly underutilized. For decades it supplied power to heavy industry (Alcoa, Reynolds Aluminum, General Motors, paper mills).
Most of these industries have shuttered and the remaining ones downsized, leaving the local community in economic distress.
NYPA commissioned McKinsey & Company to recommend means for rehabilitating the region. Their study supported CEI’s earlier conclusion that CEA is a glove-fit for the area: developing a greenhouse complex powered by renewable hydro-energy, and capable of employing the skilled labor pool year-round to serve the northeast produce markets.
In 2007 CEI founders were awarded a USDA Value Added Producer Grant to study the feasibility of using Sustainable Energy sources to operate a Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Greenhouse in upstate New York.
Leading experts in the relatively new area of CEA were assembled as advisors. They included Professor Emeritus Louis D. Albright, PhD of Cornell, considered the foremost authority on indoor growing and the founder of CEA; Professor Emeritus Merle H. Jensen PhD., plant life scientist, founder Arizona CEA Center, foremost authority on hydroponics, inventor of the flotation system for growing leafy vegetables; and Dr. Thomas E. Amidon, head of SUNY ESF and specialist in biorefinery sciences. Support for the grant came from NYSERDA; the Honorable Congressman John McHugh; Cornell University; General Electric Power Division; Noble Renewable Energy, and several local Malone/Massena area enterprises.
That initial USDA study concluded there was a significant opportunity to engage in year-round indoor agriculture to service the Northeast and reduce dependency on produce grown at long distances to markets as long as the costs of heat and power could allow for competitive pricing of the end product. This led to exploring numerous sites throughout New York and New England in which to locate “Advanced Technology Greenhouses” prior to settling on Massena as having the ideal mix of low-cost renewable power and heat, with an abundant and reliable labor pool, and proximity to a very large market (now mostly served from California and Arizona).