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POWER AUTHORITY SCRAPS LEWISTON PUMP PLANT UPGRADE

The New York Power Authority has abandoned plans for a $512 million upgrade of its Lewiston Pump-Generating Plant, opting instead to continue with a $20 million maintenance program.

The Lewiston Plant is the smaller of two hydroelectric power plants operated by the state power authority, said spokeswoman Connie Cullen. It controls the flow of water into and out of the reservoir that supplies the main generating plant.

"We're going to continue to undertake efforts to extend the life of the Lewiston Plant," she said.

The decision doesn't affect the Power Authority's current $300 million upgrade of the larger Robert Moses Plant, where the turbine generators are more than 40 years old, Cullen said. That project is scheduled to be completed in 2006.

A feasibility study by Acres International Corp. of Amherst showed the upgrade of the Lewiston Pump-Generating Plant project would not have created any additional power for economic development, and would have increased costs for customers $339 million over the next 46 years.

The scaled down plan for the Lewiston Plant sits well with Mark S. Zito, chief executive officer of the Niagara Power Coalition, which is overseeing the authority's relicensing agreement.

"In Niagara Falls we have 100 megawatts of power that is currently not being used and is available for new industry," Zito said.

The excess electricity has gone unused because the Buffalo Niagara region never regained its lost industry after the Rust Belt exodus of the 1960s and 1970s.

The surplus is part of 435 megawatts of replacement power that was set aside for the region after the Schoellkopf Power Plant collapsed into the Niagara Gorge in 1957.

"Replacement power customers are not even using what they've got," Zito added. "What would be the point of increasing that pot of unused power at a higher cost to the customer?"

Zito's group is making sure the local economy benefits from the authority's 50-year relicensing agreement, which would commence in 2007. The Power Authority must submit its draft application to the federal energy regulatory commission by Jan. 27, and the completed application by August. The approval process would then take two years.

The coalition represents seven municipalities and school districts that will share $8 million in the first year of the relicensing and an annual windfall of $5 million and 25 megawatts of low cost electricity over the following 49 years, Zito said.

On average, one megawatt of power provides enough electricity for up to 1,000 homes. Benefiting will be the City of Niagara Falls, the towns of Niagara and Lewiston, Niagara County, and the school districts of Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield and Lewiston-Porter.

Zito sees continued maintenance as sufficient.

The water from the Niagara River is the fuel for the hydroelectric plants. The Niagara Power Project includes two intake structures on the upper Niagara River and two underground concrete conduits that collect the U.S.-allocated portion of the water under an agreement with Canada.

The water flows into a storage area, or forebay. The Lewiston Plant pumps water from the forebay into the Lewiston Reservoir at night when there is less demand for electricity and releasing it for peak-period use during the day.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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