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SEP 29 - OCT 06, 2015

Some Call It Insane Planning a century without the use of local Niagara Hydropower

By Frank Parlato

SEP 29, 2015

The New York Power Authority’s 2,400-MW Niagara Power Project, which began operation in 1961, is New York state’s largest power source and one of the nation’s largest hydroelectric projects. Ironically the residents living nearest the Niagara River do not get to use the power generated by the power plant something most residents do not know.
Artist representation of Niagara region leaders celebrating their renewal of the NYPA license for 50 years in 2007 giving NYPA control of the areas hydropower until 2057 - and for what will be 100 years without use of local hydropower.


When local leaders stood eagerly in line to give the New York Power Authority (NYPA) another 50 years of control of our $1 billion per year Niagara River hydropower in 2007 some people – including this writer- called it insane.

Back then the deal was, in return for surrendering all rights to all local hydropower to NYPA a $50 billion giveaway in today’s dollars, local communities got $5 million per year for 50 years, not adjusted for inflation, and divided up by seven municipal entities, and $9 million in Greenway funds annually- again, not adjusted for inflation – divided up by 14 entities – and less than 1 percent of the power actually generated from the Niagara River at NYPA’s Robert Moses Power Plant.

It is now 58 years – since 1957 – since NYPA had the right to control all the electricity generated from the Niagara River on the US side.

Before NYPA’s license expired in 2007, elected officials from Niagara Falls, Niagara County, the Towns of Niagara and Lewiston, and the Niagara-Wheatfield, Lewiston-Porter, and Niagara Falls school districts, agreed to renew NYPA’s right to control the hydropower of the Niagara River when they agreed to extend NYPA’s license to 2057.

To help evaluate what the past 58 years of NYPA control has done for this region, consider that, in 1956, the year before NYPA’s license began, Compton’s Encyclopedia wrote: “Water power helped build the (prosperous) city of Niagara Falls … the falling of water provides a great and constant source of power for (locally-owned) hydro-electric plants which supply the city and surrounding area (with) abundant and cheap electrical power.”

After more than half a century of NYPA, the people who have the greatest natural hydropower in the world have neither control, nor use of that power, nor inexpensive electricity.

According to Electric Power Monthly, only two places pay more than we do: New Hampshire and Hawaii. 13 states pay less than half.

We have NYPA to thank for that.

NYPA generates around a billion dollars of electricity annually from the Niagara - out of which around a quarter billion is net profit – according to NYPA financial disclosures.

Those profits are made by NYPA by selling that power to New York City, to government agencies downstate, and, ironically, to seven other states.

In a dark twist of fate, NYPA sells none of the Niagara-generated power to the residents of Niagara County.

Niagara region residents get their power from burning coal and other expensive methods, purchased at high mark-up from a company owned by foreign investors in England called National Grid.

To use an analogy to show how absurd this is: Suppose a region grew marvelous apples – red and delicious; they were famous for it. They could get rich from the sale, and healthy from eating these apples – but the people and their children – for 50 years - never tasted the apples or profited from them (unless, of course, they moved away - which many did).

Then these people of this apple growing region and their uniquely inept leaders renewed the license of the “Apple Authority” to have dominion over their apples, and, for another 50 years, they imported far more expensive, but inferior apples, or went without apples, though the orchards were all around them.

And the people remained dead broke.

You’d call these people insane, wouldn’t you?

When NYPA first persuaded us it should take over, following a rockslide collapse of a local power plant, we were told we needed NYPA, headed by the power-mad Robert Moses, to manage our hydropower, and make sure the people, and not a few, greedy, corporate barons or political patronage hogs – got the benefit.

It turned out to be the opposite: Although created by the State Legislature to provide “low-cost electricity to the people of New York,” NYPA became, instead, an entrenched political institution. With its Board of Directors appointed by Albany politicians, with no direct accountability to the people, NYPA, over decades, accommodated the ten-thousand back-door, sweetheart deals --at the behest of successive politicians - that systematically diverted every vestige of benefit of having hydropower in our midst.

Today, NYPA swells to obese with patronage jobs which entail miniscule work requirements-- for top wages.

Ironic, is it not? Instead of providing low cost electricity for this region – (as we were promised) - which would create thousands of good-paying jobs – the profits from our hydropower pays for thousands of high-paying “administrative” jobs, most of which are in Albany or in White Plains – a virtual suburb of NYC.

When NYPA relicensing was accomplished in 2007, it meant the people of this region could look forward to a century without hydropower.

Yet our leaders are not talking about whether or not to rescind the relicensing based on a fraudulent inducement – starting with Robert Moses – the promise of low cost electricity or even how to get low electric rates for the people of this region.

Instead, their questions are “can we get one million for a bike path from NYPA- controlled Greenway?”

Or can we get our hands on some cash for our broke city by discounting the next 43 years of $850,000 annual NYPA payments to Niagara Falls which are not adjusted for inflation by selling it at a discount of $13 million as Mayor Paul Dyster proposed doing in 2013.

Compared to the actual financial value of Niagara power, one million is one cent and $13 million is ten cents.

And $850,000 per year – the sum total NYPA pays to Niagara Falls which has the actual waterfalls that creates the topography that permits the hydropower generation in the first place – and which will be getting the same $850,000 per year 40 years from now – in 40 years at current rates of inflation will be worth $187,000.

The people and their politicians, having had the power to stop it, chose to renew NYPA’s license, and – much like the Robert Moses Parkway which cut off he people from the waterfront – the relicensing of NYPA for the Niagara River will be remembered as one of the great blunders of local history.

They’ll write it like this: fooled them once (for 50 years): shame on NYPA; fooled them twice (for 50 more years): shame on Niagara.

They’ll call us mental midgets - or worse.

Where else could you find a place which produces a billion in electricity annually; has it sent to other places at cheap prices; then pays high electric rates; is all but broke; has local leaders who relicensed the same “Authority” who created the mess; and an apathetic, uninformed public?

We might go down in history as the region - with so many assets lost - who stood up to take them back, and restore “the Power City” name —to Niagara Falls.

Insanity need not be hereditary.






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Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
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