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Sewer, water districts to lose power

Niagara County is planning to divert some of its allocation of Niagara Power Project electricity away from water and sewer operations to a business assistance program.

The directors of the county Water and Sewer districts confirmed last week that they have been informed that they must budget for higher electricity costs in 2012, because the power they received from the Power Project relicensing is being taken away.

The county plans to take 1 megawatt of power that was allocated to the special districts and turn it over to Empower Niagara, the agency that granted low-cost electricity to seven businesses before exhausting its supply late in 2010.

In 2007, the County Legislature gave the Water District seven-tenths of a megawatt and the Sewer District three-tenths of a megawatt from the county's share of the 2005 electricity deal with the New York Power Authority.

However, the allocation came with strings attached. The Legislature voted unanimously that the power could be taken back at any time if an economic development opportunity cropped up.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said last week that Empower Niagara has several applications for electricity that it can't service because its original allocation of 1.3 megawatts from the relicensing agreement has been used up.

Empower Niagara aided seven businesses and helped create or retain 670 jobs before it ran out of juice.

Economic Development Commissioner Samuel M. Ferraro did not return calls last week for information on the backlogged applications.

But the chiefs of the Water and Sewer districts said they got the word from County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz that the power is being taken away from them.

The district directors said that even though it will increase their utility costs, they're willing to take one for the team.

"We don't have say. We understand it's for jobs in our region, and we do support that, certainly," said Anthony Hahn, administrative director of the Sewer District.

"Maybe we'll get some more businesses we can sell water to," said Herbert A. Downs, administrative director of the Water District.