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Published in:

Niagara Gazette (03/08) Tonawanda News (03/09) Politics (03/29)


Some call it insane: Renewing NYPA for another 50 years?

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Most local leaders stand ready to give the New York Power Authority (NYPA) another 50 years of control of our hydro- power.

Some think that’s insane.

Since 1957, NYPA has had control of all the electricity generated from the Niagara. Their license expires in 2007.

To help evaluate what almost half a century has done, consider that, in 1956, the year before NYPA took over, 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.”

Now, after almost half a century of NYPA, the people who have the greatest natural hydro –power 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 more than two-thirds of a billion dollars worth of electricity annually from the Niagara, but sells that power to NYC, to government agencies downstate, and, ironically, to seven other states. In a wild twist of fate, NYPA sells none of the Niagara-generated power to the people of Niagara County. We get our power from burning coal and other expensive methods, purchased at high mark-up from a company owned by foreign investors in England (National Grid).

Let’s 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 – but the people and their children – for 50 years - never tasted, or profited (unless, of course, they moved away - which many did). Then these people 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 power, 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, sweet- heart deals --at the behest of successive politicians - that systematically diverted and denuded every last vestige of benefit of having hydro-power in our midst. Today, NYPA swells to obese with patronage jobs which entail brazenly the most 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 hydro-power pays for thousands of high-paying “administrative” jobs, most of which are in Albany or in White Plains – a virtual suburb of NYC.

If NYPA re-licensing is successful – it will mean a century without hydro- power. Yet our leaders are not talking about whether or not to re-license, or how to get low rates for the people. Instead, their question is “can we get two million or ten million from NYPA for our pet projects? Or ‘quick fix’ of deficits in bloated budgets?”

Compared to the actual financial value of Niagara power, two million is two cents and ten million is ten cents.

If the people and the politicians, having the power to stop it, choose to renew NYPA’s license, it will be remembered as one of the great blunders of 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 two thirds of 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 ready to re-license the same “Authority” who created this mess; and an apathetic, uninformed public?

All you need for an insane asylum is a good location, and the right kind of people.

Contrary to NYPA propaganda, renewal is not a “done deal.” If enough people complained –Congress will not re-license. If local leaders had courage, we could start condemnation - on NYPA – based on past performance. We could blockade roads and burn tires.

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”—to Niagara Falls. Make that “Power County”- to Niagara.

Insanity need not be hereditary.



Copyright © Frank Parlato Jr.