A lot of people have been saying the New York Power Authority should be doing more for Western New York.
The authority's new boss agrees.
"We are going to have a real focus on Western New York," Richard M. Kessel said. "I think there's been a disconnect between NYPA and this community."
Kessel was in town Thursday and Friday to introduce himself to government and business leaders. In a meeting with reporters and editorial writers of The Buffalo News, Kessel spent a lot of time discussing what he wants to do differently than his predecessors in Western New York.
For starters, the new president and chief executive officer wants to reconsider the program that allocates low-cost power for local industry. The present setup has been criticized as providing overly generous subsidies for relatively little economic return.
"We do need to take a look at how the power is allocated and what the criteria are," he said.
In addition, Kessel said he is willing to consider keeping more of the revenue generated by the Niagara Power Project in the region. The plants in Lewiston have generated most of the authority's profits in recent years, but the proceeds have been used mostly to benefit interests outside the region.
"Are we holding on to too much [money]? Probably," he said. "A significant portion of the benefits from the Niagara project should remain here. I'm a big believer in host communities getting benefits."
Kessel, former head of the Long Island Power Authority, said he is well aware of the criticism aimed at the NYPA in recent years and con
cerns about his loyalties because he's a downstater.
"I'm not interested in taking any power from Western New York and taking it down to New York City," he said. "If we need to change some of the allocations and keep more power here, we should."
Kessel stressed that he is new to the job and still learning and said that, in making changes, he didn't want to hurt existing customers. But he also made it clear he intends to shake things up.
"NYPA can be one of the major economic engines in Western New York if we put our mind to it," he said. "I think there are some huge opportunities."
Statewide, Kessel listed these priorities:
* Buying lower-cost electricity from Canadian producers of hydropower, particularly in Quebec.
* Upgrading the electrical transmission system, which also had been a priority of his predecessor, Roger B. Kelley.
* Promoting energy conservation and the development of renewable energy, including wind and solar power.
* Acting on internal reforms, including the authority's use of a plane to ferry board members and employees across the state.
"We have have to clean ourselves up," he said.
Kessel was quick to address negative news coverage by downstate papers about his performance as head of the Long Island Power Authority. That coverage portrayed him as political and not fiscally disciplined. "I want to dispel the notion I'm just a political guy put in by [Gov. David A.] Paterson," he said.
Kessel outlined what he said were his accomplishments, including stable electric rates and an increase in generating capacity on Long Island.
In his view, "I left LIPA probably in better shape than any utility in New York."