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Ignoring the biggest outrage at the Power Authority

Let me interrupt all the bluster surrounding the New York Power Authority's rate hike and possible awarding of bonuses in the wake of turning over $476 million to Gov. Paterson and the State Legislature for this public service announcement:

Everyone is continuing to overlook the real outrage concerning NYPA and WNY, because doing so would require action instead of grandstanding.

Nearly 20 percent of the low-cost hydropower generated at the Niagara Power Project in Lewiston and earmarked for industry here in WNY is going begging for users. 

For the most part, the power, which goes for about a quarter of the market rate, has been allocated to companies that have yet to start using it, including the Globe Metals plant in Niagara Falls, which is taking longer than expected to retrofit its abandoned plant, and two ethanol plants that can't get off the drawing board because the bottom has fallen out of their industry.

The Power Authority sells the unused power on the open market for a huge markup. Last year I reportedthat NYPA would pocket some $45 million over the course of 2008. This has been going on for years, and the practice has earned the authority some $161 million since 2002.

Some of that money has been spent -- not here, of course, but in helping to fund other power programs that benefit mostly downstate business interests, underwrite the authority's costly bureaucracy, and presumably pay the bonuses NYPA has paid out for years.

NYPA did not spend all the money, however. A lot of it went into its piggy bank, which Albany raided a few months back to help close its deficit for the budget year.

With me so far?

The constant pounding the authority has received, first from Rep.Brian Higgins during negotiations to relicense the Niagara Power Project, and the past two years from yours truly, have led to a consensus that NYPA needs to be doing more for WNY. Even Richie Kessel, the new NYPA boss, freely admits this.

Yet nothing of substance has been done. Nada. Zippo.

To put it another way, neither Eliot Spitzer nor David Paterson, nor anyone in the Legislature -- most notably the members of our local delegation on both sides of the aisle -- have done squat.

Neither has NYPA, not under former President Roger Kelley -- he, of Clarence, not that it did us any good -- nor the aforementioned Kessel, despite his oft-stated good intentions.Ditto for our two representatives on the NYPA board, Elise Cusack and Pat Curley.

What to do about all this?

I think it's kinda simple.

The Legislature can introduce -- and pass -- a law that would mandate that the profits from the sale of unused power designated for local industry be earmarked for economic development purposes here.

Yeah, this might not be a slam dunk given the downstate dominance of the Leg, but our delegation was elected to do more than rubber stamp what the leadership puts before them.

And NYPA, for your part, you could return some of the past profits post-haste by funding some variation of the proposal Phil Wilcox and Niagara Green Space Consortium  gave you a couple of weeks ago to clear up two big brownfields, one each in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, to provide the region with two major shovel-ready sites.

Yeah, the cost ain't cheap. But it's a fraction of what NYPA has taken out of this community through the sale of unused hydropower.

In short, it's time to address the outrage in plain sight.

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New York Power Authority
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