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New NYPA boss saying the right things

I've been writing about the New York Power Authority for a couple of years now, and time and time again, the muckety-mucks there have responded to criticism of the authority's management of the Niagara Power Project by saying the plant is a state, not local asset.

In other words: "Too bad if you don't like it."

Kessel_new Along comes Richard Kessel, who took over NYPA's top job a couple of weeks ago, and, boy, is he singing a different tune.

He doesn't come right out and agree with folks like Brian Higgins, who have been screaming about how we're getting short-changed. But he certainly sees, shall we say, "room for improvement."

Kessel spent Thursday and Friday tooling around Buffalo Niagara, meeting and greeting pols,  business leaders and ink-stained wretches like me.

"I have to tell you, based on everything I've seen here the past couple of days, more can be done to help Western New York and upstate," he said.

True, dat.

Kessel came across as affable, engaging and energetic, and I'll admit to being pleasantly surprised by what he had to say. That there smarter uses for the low-cost hydropower allocated to local industry, that more of the money generated at the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston ought to remain here.

All this is a clear departure from what has been emanating for HQ in White Plains.

Before anyone gets carried away, let's remember that the decisions necessary to bring about change are not Kessel's alone to make, and that his words notwithstanding, he's going to be pushed and pulled in a lot of different directions by folks who historically have not been sympathetic to WNY. In addition, the governor and Legislature have a lot to say about what happens at NYPA.

You can bet that Kessel, Paterson and the Legislature will be lobbied by current power recipients and some of their buddies in the business community, who will try to spook them with the prospect of job losses if they mess with the status quo.

That is a potent argument in this community, which suffers from a mindset of "Hold on to what we have, no matter the cost." In this case, it's about $200 million of discounts a year that don't get enough bang for the buck. We're squandering the best economic development tool at our disposal.

This community's "circle the wagons" mentality is one reason why we keep missing the wave of economic growth that most of the rest of the country has enjoyed. We've got leaders with their eyes fixated on the rear-view mirror.

Kessel said his marching orders from Gov. David A. Paterson include doing more for WNY and the North Country, home of the authority's two major generation plants. Kessel said he won't be shy about making recommendations to Paterson and the Legislature towards that end. In that regard, Kessel is willing to wade in where his predecessors have not. And unlike most of them, he seems to have political moxie.

Kessel strikes me as eager to please. He's very aware of both NYPA's bad reputation in WNY and concerns about him as a downstater with an uneven track record as boss of the Long Island Power Authority.

"I want to dispel the notion I'm just a political guy put in by Paterson," he said. "Give me a chance."

It will take time, and action, for Kessel to prove his sincerity and mettle. But coming out of the box, he's saying the right things and reaching out to people here in a way his predecessors never did.

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New York Power Authority
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