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HEARING LOOKS AT THE FUTURE OF POWER INDUSTRY

About 30 persons attended an informational meeting Thursday about the future of the electrical industry, which included presentations by proponents of Niagara Mohawk's Power Choice, municipalization and co-generation.

Councilman Vincent R. Morello, who put the meeting together with the backing of the City Council, said the future of the electrical industry under deregulation will resemble the telecommunications industry over the past decade. Morello, a proponent of municipal takeover of the electrical distribution system, said a broader look at the options available was needed.

Buffalo Common Council Member Alfred T. Coppola and William H. Cristofaro of the Sear-Brown Group both urged opposition to Power Choice. Coppola said parties, such as himself and the American Association of Retired Persons, that oppose the decision are filing a class action suit against the state Public Service Commission, which approved it.

Cristofaro said the commission "has probably tilted the scales too far in favor of the utilities" and urged people to write to their state representatives to press them to modify the PSC's plan and devise a "fairer deregulation process." Sear-Brown is a Rochester architectural engineering firm that specializes in co-generation systems for businesses. He said in the future the technology will become available for private homes.

Joseph Ash of Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. said by the end of 1999 under Power Choice, customers will be able to choose who they buy electricity from. Niagara Mohawk will continue to deliver the power through the transmission system, which it owns. He said most classes of Niagara Mohawk customers would see a 3.2 percent reduction in their bills over the next three years.

Critics of the plan, such as Coppola, said the savings would be lost in the fourth and fifth years. T.J. Lawrie of the Wing Group of Houston, Texas, said the cost to consumers won't decrease because, while the cost of power may go down, customers also will have to pay Niagara Mohawk for the cost of transmission.

Coppola and Lawrie said New York State consumers pay twice the national average for electricity. Lawrie, whose companies help municipalities take over power distribution systems, said customers in Niagara Falls would be guaranteed 25.2 percent savings at no risk under Wing's plan.

Thomas J. McGrath of the Wheeled Electric Power Co. of Troy, whose company is one of the new vendors that will be selling electricity, is a proponent of deregulation, although he opposes the Power Choice plan. He said consumers do save under the free and open competition of the marketplace. But, he said, the savings won't be as dramatic as some have promised. He opposed municipalization and said cities would be better off allowing deregulation to occur and then bidding out their electricity needs as they bid other goods and services.

Ash said there is no evidence that rates would go down under municipalization. He also said there is no certainty consumers will see any great savings under Power Choice.

"The problem is the alternative doesn't look any better," he said.

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