Editor’s note: The new owner of the plant – now called SOBE Energy Solutions – wants to clarify that the tires and plastics being used to generate the steam are not being burned. Rather, a conversion technology is being used that converts the solid wastes into gas. Company officials say the gas the plant produces is very clean and that SOBE’s emissions are equal to natural gas. On Sunday, the SOBE building was vandalized. SOBE officials hope that by clarifying their process further negative actions can be avoided in the future.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — One of the oldest continuing businesses in downtown Youngstown is moving from the 19th to the 21st century in one big leap. The Steam Heat Plant on North Avenue is in the process of being totally renovated including the way the steam is generated. Wednesday we were given a first-hand look at the changes being made that should keep the plant viable.

The Steam Heat Plant has been operating on Youngstown’s North Avenue since the late 1800s. The smoke stacks rising from the plant a staple of the downtown skyline.

“It’s been operating on coal all the way up until probably 2017. It’s time for a change,” said David Ferro.

Ferro is CEO of the Dublin, Ohio, based SOBE Energy Solutions which in November bought what was long known as Youngstown Thermal. What was the coal powerhouse — built-in 1947 — is being demolished. Sometime in the next two weeks, the smoke stacks will be demolished, too.

“We’re removing them and we’re replacing them with innovation. We’re going to have stacks but they won’t need to be a hundred feet tall,” said Ferro.

Instead of burning coal, the SOBE plant is being set up to use a conversion technology that converts these solid wastes into gas.

“So it’s taking some of that innovation and applying it to an old district heating and cooling system and combining them together to get an upgraded renewable technology,” said Ferro.

SOBE provides steam to 35 businesses downtown and recently signed a contract with Youngstown State to rejoin the system. Ferro hopes that DoubleTree Hotel and the Covelli Centre will join, too.

“We compete with natural gas. So we are equal to burning natural gas. We make our own gas from our waste stream and then we burn that gas in our boilers to make the steam or the energy that we desire,” said Ferro.

SOBE has a warehouse in Lowellville where the plastics and tires are stored until they’re ready to be converted. The company employs five people but hopes to someday soon have 30.

“When we talk about bringing innovation and bringing change you have to demonstrate through actions…And so I think that’s a strong message hopefully to the community that they understand. We’re dedicated, we’re committed to making this happen,” said Ferro.

Anyone frequenting downtown likely has noticed the steam coming up from the streets. We always thought it was normal, but it was actually leaks in the lines. One at YSU had been there 20 years. SOBE has repaired them all in an effort to make the system more efficient.