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Progress on the power front

I'll give New York Power Authority boss Richie Kessel credit: He knows how to make a splash.

He made two of them -- big ones -- Wednesday in Buffalo.

Kessel, newFirst, he surprised a lot of people by essentially agreeing with Brian Higgins that profits from the sale of unused power reserved for WNY industries should remain in the community.

Keep in mind, the authority has been hoarding the profits for the past four years, an estimated $161 million, and repeating its mantra that the plant is a state, not local, asset.

Higgins revealed plans Tuesday to submit federal legislation to mandate the money stay in the community and - boom - Kessel pretty much agreed with him the next day. The ink was hardly dry on the morning newspaper.

"There is no question the New York Power Authority has not done enough with low-cost power staying in Western New York," Kessel said. "There is an extraordinary need to do more."

Not that Kessel agrees completely with Higgins. The Power Authority chief said he would want to use the money for energy-related economic development purposes, rather than infrastructure work and capital improvements to public facilities, as Higgins envisions.

Whatever. It shows what a little populist rage will accomplish.

Members of our local delegation to the State Legislature, are you taking notes?

Kessel repeated his position at a press conference later in the day attended by, among other, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster.

"That was the most progress on the issue I've seen in my entire time dealing with NYPA, and that's a long time," Dyster said.

Higgins betterHiggins welcomed Kessel's remarks, but he's keeping his pedal to the metal.

On Wednesday, he filed the bill and gained support from Byron Brown, Chris Collins and Andrew Rudnick, following an endorsement from Dyster the day before.  

What's more, Higgins upped the ante by saying he wants the authority to give the locals control over not only how the money is spent, but how power reserved for local industry is allocated.

"The authority should give us the resources back and get ... out of the way," he said.

Kessel on Wednesday also announced a bold initiative that, if it pans out, could result in the construction of a $1 billion wind farm off the shores of Lake Erie or Ontario, and the development of a manufacturing, assembly and service sector to support the wind power industry around the Great Lakes.

The project is no slam dunk, but a couple of local wind power experts I interviewed for today's story in The News said they are impressed with the authority's first step, the issuance of something called a request for expressions of interest from wind energy developers. It partly reflects an approach outlined in a policy paper done a year ago for the Wind Action Group by the University at Buffalo Law Clinic.

In all, a strange, surprising day for those who have followed the Power Authority for any length of time.

Read the full story.


New York Power Authority | Wind power
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