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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.

The answer is blowing in the wind

Texas billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens -- gotta love the name -- has launched a media savvy campaign to move the country away from oil to wind power. He sees the Midwest, from Texas to the Dakotas, as "the Saudi Arabia of wind power."

That might make Western New York, say, Kuwait. After all, we're the fourth windiest urban area in the nation.

Reports The Washington Post:

"Pickens has become an evangelist for wind power as a way to break the nation's dependence on foreign oil, launching an advertising blitz in which he warned: 'I've been an oilman all my life, but this is one emergency we can't drill our way out of.' "

The Pickens Plan envisions wind power producing 20 percent of the nation's electricity. It wouldn't be cheap -- with a pricetag of $1.2 trillion -- but Pickens notes that as things stand now, the U.S. will send $10 trillion overseas the next decade to buy oil.

The heart of his plan, according to muckraking blogger Phil Mattera, "is a call for large-scale expansion of wind energy to allow the country’s natural gas now being used for electricity generation to serve instead as a cleaner fuel for cars, trucks and buses." Mattera, in his Dirt Diggers Digest, notes that Pickens may have more than the national interest at heart: He also stands to make a lot of money.

Pickens is putting his money -- and he has lots of it -- where his mouth is. He is proceeding with plans to build the world's largest wind farm -- 2,700 turbines on some 200,000 acres in the Texas Panhandle -- that would provide enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes. Texas, in fact, is leading the nation in the development of wind power, as this Washington Post story details.

This Dallas Morning News story provides a good overview of what Pickens is up to. This New York Times editorial and op-ed piece isn't bad, either.

Success by Pickens can only help Western New York, given our wind resources. There's a small windmill farm on the Bethlehem Steel site and turbines scattered in assorted rural areas, but so far, we as a region have only scratched the surface. 

A future in wind

There's another report out that champions the development of wind power in Western New York. This one, released last week, is authored by University at Buffalo law professor Robert Berger, director of its Environment and Development Clinic, and Dwight Kanyuck, a student at the clinic.

Says the report:

"Western New York's proximity to the Great Lakes provides an opportunity to again become a leader in the generation of clean, renewable energy as an engine for regional economic development and to leverage the region's technology and manufacturing infrastructure to further an economic renaissance centered on alternative energy and a reputation as a clean, livable community."

The report recommends a coordinated approach to come up with a plan, and envisons the state, starting with the New York Power Authority, playing a key role.

Take a look and weigh in with a comment.