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ECIDA shuns plan to aid auto plants Kennedy wants to set aside cheap power solely for auto industry

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday shunned Erie County Legislator Timothy Kennedy's push to have the IDAs in Erie and Niagara counties gain control over 27 megawatts of unallocated cheap hydropower from the New York Power Authority and set it aside solely for the region's auto plants.

The IDA went along with Kennedy's bid to have the agency go on record in supporting Delphi Corp.'s request for 10 megawatts of cheap hydropower from the power authority.

But the board put off consideration of Kennedy's broader push to have the remaining 27 megawatts of electricity set aside solely for the region's auto industry and to have the two IDAs responsible for doling it out.

That split frustrated Kennedy, who characterized the result after the meeting as a "feel-good resolution" that failed to accomplish his larger goal of helping to protect the region's auto plants, which employ nearly 17,000 workers.

"This is an opportunity for us to claim control of that hydropower, which is naturally ours," he said. "It will give us the ability to give the auto industry a reason not to make cuts in Western New York, while they put the knife to other plants."

Other IDA officials, however, said they wanted more time to study Kennedy's proposal and were concerned about the impact setting aside all of the unallocated power would have on economic development efforts involving companies outside the auto industry.

"I'm concerned how many other legitimate companies might come in and say 'how dare you allocate that power," said Kevin Clarke, the IDA's chairman. "These folks might be very legitimate recipients, but are there are other folks out there that might have a legitimate need?"

Michael Saltzman, a power authority spokesman, said the agency already works with a panel of local business representatives in determining allocations and how to maximize the economic impact of the power.

"We fully recognize the importance of hydropower for the region's economy and we are working together to put it to the best possible use for the region's businesses and industries," he said.

Attorney Robert P. Fine, the IDA's secretary, said Kennedy's proposal would give the agency sway in decisions that IDAs typically are not involved in.

Clarke said he didn't think IDAs had the power to take the type of action Kennedy proposed.

Clarke criticized Kennedy's proposal as irresponsible because it was presented to board members five minutes before the agency's monthly meeting, prompting board member David Franczyk to reply that Clarke's remarks were "a little harsh."

The proposal by Kennedy, D-Buffalo, came three days after U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, urged the power authority to target the 37 unallocated megawatts of cheap electricity for Western New York's auto plants, although Higgins said the power should generally earmarked for "the highest and best use."

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

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com1

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