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POWER GRAB <br> THE COST OF RELICENSING POWER AUTHORITY SHOULD NOT PUT AREA JOBS IN HARM'S WAY

Call them party poopers if you want, but the members of a coalition of Western New York corporations have a message straight out of Business 101: There is no free lunch.

The message is directed at the entire community, but particularly at those who see the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project as an opportunity to get something for nothing. It won't work, according to the member companies of Power for Economic Prosperity.

It is true that as a part of relicensing, the New York Power Authority expects to pay millions of dollars to a slate of stakeholders whose grievances come under the umbrella of the relicensing process. But even though the Power Authority is sitting on a stash of tens of millions of dollars, it says the settlements are a cost of doing business that will come not out of its fund balance, but the bank accounts of ratepayers.

That's a healthy reminder to a community that is rightfully frustrated by its inability to tap into the power plant's cheap electricity in a way that is commensurate with its proximity. As justified as that anger may be, the feeding frenzy that relicensing has set off must also be viewed in terms of what its impact will be on the inexpensive electricity the plant does sell in this region.

For example, the Power Authority claims the low-cost power it provides here sustains some 40,000 jobs in the Buffalo Niagara region. The cost of that power will almost certainly rise as a result of relicensing, but if it goes up too much, those jobs could be placed in some degree of risk.

Relicensing was timed for the plant's 50th year, recognizing that circumstances and priorities change over time. It is entirely appropriate that the power plant, which takes in hundreds of millions of dollars, pay to rectify environmental problems it creates, and to compensate those whose interests it harms.

But those who are standing in line, with their hands out, and the community at large should take to heart the caution offered by the PEP group. The Power Authority is not giving away free money. There will be a cost. It is up to everyone involved to be sure that it is one worth paying.