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Pondering municipal electric company
Leaders of four communities discuss the idea to address costs

In a bid to address high electricity costs, leaders of the towns of Niagara, Porter and Lewiston, and the Village of Youngstown met Monday night to discuss the formation of their own municipal electric company.

"National Grid is a very predatory electric company," Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven Richards said. "The reason why we pay the highest electric costs in the country is not because of the Power Authority, but is because of National Grid."

The current cost to buy electricity from National Grid is 22 cents a kilowatt, Richards said, but the New York Power Authority sells it for a penny and a half.

As a longtime member of the Niagara Power Coalition, he said he learned that any community can start a utility, and he has begun working on a plan for his town. He recently was joined by Lewiston Supervisor Steven Reiter.

"Lewiston has the power plant and we have the transmission facility," Richards said. "We don't need county or state approval. You just need the financing."

Richards said that in his town, the cost to buy the infrastructure from National Grid would be $1 million.

Alfred T. Coppola -- a former state senator and Buffalo City Council chairman who led the unsuccessful charge to form a municipal electric company in the City of Buffalo talked with board members about the roadblocks he faced, as well as some of the successes in other New York State communities.

Coppola said he has been fighting for cheaper power for the past 30 years.

"[National Grid is] killing us on delivery charges and it's been going up," he said. He called National Grid "bloated" with billions of dollars in debt that residents in power-rich Western New York help to pay.

When communities take care of their own utility lines, there is no middle man, Coppola said. In Akron, he said, the village runs its own municipal electric company with four employees.

"Why would Perry's Ice Cream want to be in Akron? It's because of low-cost power," Coppola said.

"One thing a government should own is their own power. They are not in it to make a profit. We are losing congressional seats with our population shrinking. What does that tell you? We are not competitive," he said.

Reiter said Lewiston was already working with Porter and Youngstown to run their own water and sewer plant, so why not explore power?

"I like the idea of a small group. If this was county-wide, there would be a lot of commissioners and political patronage," Reiter said. "We have an opportunity here to control our own destiny."

Lewiston offered low-cost power to residents after the relicensing agreement with the New York Power Authority, but Reiter said at this point residents weren't even see the savings because of delivery costs.

Coppola told those attending the meeting that before they do anything else they needed to do a feasibility study, which cost up to $90,000 in one area where 24 communities participated. In their case they expect to pay a lot less.

"If all else fails, at least you will have a solid study," Coppola said.

Richards said officials interested in the idea will meet soon with consultants.

"At the end of the day how can we reduce costs for electricity?" Richards asked. "Niagara County has it's own muni set up for the past 33 years and never implemented it. For at least 33 years, we have been paying as much as 40 percent too much for electricity"

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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