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Pataki needs to make NYPA yield Region is home to power profit-maker, so Erie County, Buffalo deserve better

New York Power Authority leaders know the perks of power, and they wear them like a $2,000 suit when it comes to denying Buffalo and Erie County more money as part of a renewed 50-year Niagara hydropower production license.

Here's the authority's public stance: We just can't spring much more than $2 million a year from the profits of the Niagara Power Project for Buffalo without "blowing up" electricity rates and endangering 43,000 jobs on the Niagara Frontier. Translation: We don't have to; we have the power and clout, you don't.

That would be more understandable if Western New York, despite boasting one of the world's premier waterfalls and hydropower production sites, weren't suffering from high electricity costs. It would also sound a lot better if the Power Authority, a creature of state government formed to replace a power plant giving this region half-penny per kilowatt power, weren't using Niagara profits to subsidize money-losing facilities and unrelated public projects elsewhere in the state. That charge is straight from the state comptroller's office.

It took a meeting request from Sen. Charles E. Schumer, backed by the region's congressional delegation, to even get the authority to reopen talks with local leaders. That was after the authority snubbed the senator's initial request. That's the arrogance of power.

Gov. George E. Pataki, who serves as a Power Authority trustee and appoints the rest of the leadership, ought to have a talk with these folks. He understands this region's needs -- and he might want to pass that grasp on to an agency that can give an annual boost to economic redevelopment activities here.

The authority's leaders claim city and county compensation is being negotiated with County Executive Joel A. Giambra and Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, and that the license mandate forbids simply pouring money into general operating costs. Fine. But by the time the federal government reviews the authority's application in December, three things have to happen.

First, make a significantly better offer to Buffalo and Erie County than the current $2 million per year. The non-profit authority makes hundreds of millions of dollars each year in profit. This is why Rep. Brian M. Higgins started pushing months ago for $10 million a year for Buffalo instead of $2 million.

Second, a far greater commitment should be made in the region that has the source of the profit-making power. Before the state decided to distribute the power produced by the Niagara River all over, it was a Western New York asset. The authority needs to factor that in when it decides where to spend money.

And finally, money from a relicensing compensation settlement needs to go to specific projects. The authority decides who gets the money. One could be the governor's two-county riverbank parkland Greenway Commission. The other should be the new Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., as the most realistic chance in decades to develop that singular resource. Buffalo and Erie County form a declining area bordering an enormous asset, and the authority should step up and help, rather than erect smoke screens about its limits.

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