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Higgins seeks cheap power for area auto plants Wants power authority to set aside 37 megawatts

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, wants the New York Power Authority to set aside 37 megawatts of cheap electricity for Western New York's auto plants.

With auto plants in the Buffalo Niagara region providing 16,700 jobs -- and almost half of the industry's jobs in New York state -- Higgins said Friday that targeting the auto sector could be the difference between jobs being added here or moving away.

Higgins said the power authority should set aside the 37 megawatts of cheap hydropower that would have gone to Wacker Chemical Corp. in a failed deal that drew criticism over the state's inability to land a proposed chemical plant in Niagara Falls.

Instead, that power should be set aside for the auto industry in Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua counties, Higgins said.

"The local auto industry is an obvious example of where the New York Power Authority pledge to make the difference between jobs growing or going elsewhere can be put to its highest and best use," he said in a statement.

Brian Vattimo, a power authority spokesman, said the allocation of power from the Niagara Power Project is strictly governed by laws spelling out eligibility criteria and application requirements to ensure that the electricity "is put to its highest and best use."

"Any unallocated portion of that power is available to businesses in the region, including auto makers and auto parts manufacturers," he said.

The region's auto plants are under close scrutiny as major auto makers, such as General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., plan to close plants and slash employment in the coming years. Neither GM's Town of Tonawanda engine plant nor Ford's Woodlawn stamping plant have been slated to close.

Auto parts maker Delphi Corp., which employs 3,800 people at its Lockport plant, is in bankruptcy and has threatened to close plants and slash worker wages in its restructuring bid. American Axle and Manufacturing also has indicated that it wants to reduce labor costs at its plants in Buffalo and the Town of Tonawanda.

GM, Ford, Delphi, American Axle and Goodyear Dunlop plants in Western New York currently receive 71-megawatts of cheap electricity from the Niagara Power Project, Vattimo said.

The power authority last month approved an additional 1.5-megawatt allocation of cheap electricity to the Woodlawn stamping plant, while the Goodyear Dunlop plant in the Town of Tonawanda received 1-megawatt of power for an expansion that will add 7,800-square-feet of manufacturing space.

The power authority will consider Delphi's request for an additional 10-megawatts of low-cost power at its meeting on Feb. 28, Vattimo said.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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