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Two real deals

I'm not at all enamored at the subsidies involved - up to $360,000 per job over 10 years in state aid, plus, I shudder to think what in federal tax breaks. But I came away from a presentation Thursday night from the folks who are opening a silicon plant in Niagara Falls next year feeling better about the undertaking.

The company - Globe Metals - looks like the real deal. They are major players in the silicon market - they manufacture 45 percent of what's produced in the United States, 12 percent of the world. In doing so, they employ a clean process to produce the silicon, as opposed to the ways its done in, say, China, which isn't good for people or the planet.

Silicon is what's used to make solar panels, so you know its a growth industry. In the deal struck with state officials that granted Globe, among other things, 40 megawatts of low-cost hydropower, the company agreed to set aside 25 percent of its production for companies in New York State.

"Our goal is to make Niagara Falls a hub of the solar industry in the United States," said Gilad Amozeg, a Globe vice president.

Sounds good to me.

If there's an industry to be built here, economic development officials need to get busy. Globe officials said they'll start producing silicon in about nine months and roll out a new production line every six months after that until the plant is up and operating in about three years. So, it seems there's no time to waste. I'll bet the folks in Syracuse already have their eye on the silicon.

Another reason to feel good about the Globe deal is the logic Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster expressed in explaining why he supports the project. He sees the investment in hydropower as a way of using renewable energy to create even more renewable energy.

Globe has 40 megawatts of hydropower in hand, and is hoping to land another 10. That 50 megawatts will power a plant that will produce enough silicon annually to make solar panels capable of generating 500 megawatts of power. That's not a bad return.

A lot of people are saying we need a different criteria for determining which companies get the region's share of cheap hydropower.

"We need to look more and more closely at who we give power to, and why," Dyster said.

He may have come up with a good criteria to add to the mix - give clean, cheap power to companies that can use it to create more clean, cheap power. If you use that logic, we could parlay our hydropower into a much larger clean energy industry.

Couple that with our access to fresh water - the oil of this century - and we could put our "woe is us" days behind us.

Many of the 80 or so people who turned out for the session, sponsored by the Buffalo Green Gold Development Corp., were impressed by Dyster. Two of them praised him as a "breath of fresh air."

He spoke of efforts in Niagara Falls to not only green the economy, but city government. He touched on history while offering a vision for the future. And he offered the crowd this semi-tongue-in-cheek advice: If you're going to gamble at the Seneca Casino, play the slots - they're the only thing the city gets a cut of.

The region's politicians and economic development policy makers would be well served to start showing up at these monthly "Business Gets Green" sessions at the Buffalo Museum of Science. Congressman Brian Higgins had a staff member there - he usually does when there's something to be learned - but I didn't recognize anyone else associated with a pol or economic decision maker. The next session is July 17.

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Economic Development | Green
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