Friday, January 28, 2011

Wanted: A seat on NYPA board

From the 31 January 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers


By Bob Confer

Do you ever feel like Niagara County is the so-called “red-headed stepchild” when it comes to state governance?

Far too often our voice is ignored – or left completely out of the conversation – when it comes to issues of public importance. Case in point: The inner workings of the New York Power Authority.

It would only make sense that we have a say in the top-level oversight of NYPA given that our county holds the crown jewel of their power generation facilities, the Niagara Power Project. Yet, we don’t. Our local elected officials have tried countless times to ensure that we do, only to be ignored by Albany’s power brokers.

During its January 18th meeting the Niagara County Legislature passed a resolution introduced by Renae Kimble requesting that the state legislature amend the Public Authorities Law to give Niagara County a permanent seat on NYPA’s seven-member board of trustees. This was not the first time such a resolution was passed. Last year it was too, and it actually looked like the wish might have been granted when the New York Senate passed the necessary legislation in early May. But, its companion legislation stalled in the Assembly and then-governor David Paterson was completely disinterested in the matter.

It is hoped that this year things will work out in our favor. The Senate was basically left intact, so it can be assured they will pass the legislation again. Niagara County’s newest assemblyman, John Ceretto, had identified the NYPA seat as a key part of his election campaign, mirroring a fight that he maintained during his tenure in the County legislature. Governor Andrew Cuomo has shown that he’s game for playing hardball with the state’s many public authorities. So, there’s ample hope that we can get a seat at the table.

But, we need more than hope. We need action. There’s power in numbers. Sure, resolutions from legislative bodies can be effective, but they need our support. I can’t say enough how important it is that you send a letter in support of the County’s resolution to the likes of Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Richard Kessel, the head of the New York Power Authority. If enough Niagara County residents send letters it will become grossly apparent that this is an issue of great importance to our socioeconomic well-being.

As a local resident and worker you should want representation at NYPA because the Niagara Power Project has such far-reaching impact on your day-to-day life (and it could have more). It is the largest electricity producer in the state, one capable of 2.4 million kilowatts. To put that into perspective, that’s enough power for 1,200 factories the size of Confer Plastics or 2,500 villages the size of Middleport. That’s a serious amount of low-cost power that should be used for the benefit of the region, rather than subsidizing NYPA’s downstate operations and clientele.

When he took over the Authority, Richard Kessel had promised a greater attentiveness to Niagara County’s needs. We have seen that to an extent with the huge allotments of inexpensive energy to Yahoo and Verizon (15 and 25 megawatts respectively). But, our community is more than 2 corporations just now calling it home. There are 4,500 business and 99,000 housing units in our borders, all of which have a true vested interest in Niagara County and could benefit from greater accessibility to Niagara power and profits.

Local companies and homeowners pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation. Just think of the benefits we all could reap and the volatile economic development that would occur, if we were all allowed a bigger piece of the pie. As I noted in earlier columns, were our rates to be made “average” (as compared to the rest of the United States), the typical local household would have an extra $708 to spend every year. That’s pretty significant.

Only 4 times in the 80 year history of the New York Power Authority has a Niagara County resident held a position on the board, despite the Niagara River’s long and storied history as the world’s greatest natural generator. That’s a key reason why our region has lost so many businesses and so many young people; we’ve never had the chance to maximize the assets our area possesses. It’s time we had a say in that.

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