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Q&A - Congressman Brian Higgins

Higgins U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins has been in the forefront of trying to wrest more for Western New York from the New York Power Authority. He led the charge to obtain more money from the authority in exchange for local support of its bid to obtain an extension of its federal license to operate the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston. With that fight over, Higgins says it's time for the community to demand that its share of the plant's power generation, and the profits it produces, stay in Western New York.

Here's what he said in a recent interview:

You’ve long argued that Western New York should be getting more of a return from the Niagara Power Project, but the folks at the Power Authority remind people that the plant is a state, not local asset, and under the law, they’re right. Aren’t you riding a dead horse?

"This hydropower is a resource from and for Western New York; it has been historically, and we need to make it more so going forward. Our city was built around the availability of low-cost power. 

"Remember, it is not the Niagara Power Project that makes low-cost power possible. It is our own unique resources –- the lake and the Niagara River -– that make the Niagara Power Project possible. So the power and the economic benefits should accrue disproportionately, if not exclusively, to the benefit of Western New York."

The Power Authority has sold unused hydropower earmarked for local industry for an estimated $161 million from 2005 through the end of this year and is using it for statewide purposes. Should that money, in the future, be coming back to Western New York?

"The power and the proceeds from the sale of that power absolutely should stay in Western New York, for job creation and investment in 'new economy' businesses. The development of wind, solar and hydropower industries in Western New York should be funded by the proceeds of the Niagara Power Project."

There is no regional action plan on economic development to do what you espouse or anything else. Shouldn’t the locals get their act together before asking for money from the sale of power?

"The replacement and expansion programs were created at a time when Buffalo's economy was very different. They need to be expanded and reformed so they can be used by local officials to nurture the new economy, including the production of green energy, such as the assembly of windmills.  Local officials cannot effectively use the programs as they are currently structure. They are terribly outdated."

Why do you think NYPA dollars should be used to fund clean energy initiatives?

Lenders are already skeptical of alternative energy startups due to enormous initial capital costs.  The short-term nature of our federal tax incentives signals to financial markets a lack of confidence in the viability of these new technologies, and raises doubts that the federal government will be a long-term partner in promoting these enterprises.

"The current federal tax credit for wind power is only one year. That is not nearly long enough. I am co-sponsoring legislation to extend the wind energy tax credit to five years.  Meanwhile, the House just passed a package of tax extensions that included a three year tax credit for energy derived from biomass, geothermal, hydropower, landfill gas and solid waste, and a six-year extension for solar power. 

"Congress must pass more-aggressive and even longer-term tax incentives to induce investment in alternative energy to reduce our dependence on oil and to create green jobs in Western New York.  In this area, a tax incentive’s length is its strength, and our economy depends on providing the strongest possible incentives."

While you and others put much of the blame on the Power Authority, officials there note that to some degree, they’re merely doing what the governor and legislators have dictated through state law. For example, the sale of 70 megawatts of unused Niagara power, the so-called “loose juice,” is a legislative edict. What role does Albany have to play in changing the way Niagara power and profits are used?

"The current NYPA model is broken. It does very little to provide new business investment and job growth in the Buffalo-Niagara region. The rules of the replacement and expansion programs need to be expanded to allow businesses in the new economy to take advantage of low cost power. 

"There is no mandate to sell off loose juice. NYPA could and should invest the proceeds from the Niagara Power Project back into local economic development. The reason there is loose juice at all is because we have a smaller economy than when the programs were designed. So the power or the proceeds from its sale should be recaptured and dedicated to investment in the local new economy. 

"There are steps NYPA can take administratively to modernize its programs to adjust to the reality that Buffalo’s economy and needs have changed since the programs were conceived.  However, NYPA is able to profit off of loose juice, and therefore has no incentive to change its rules to eliminate and keep the power in the region.  So, because NYPA will not change, there needs to be a change in the statute to provide more flexibility in the local use of the power.

Friday: An interview with D. Patrick Curley, who represents Western New York on the authority's governing board.



Economic Development | Hyrdopower | New York Power Authority
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