Sometimes, it's easy to be cynical about our area's prospects for economic growth. It often becomes so popular to complain about what's wrong, that there's little attention paid to what's right, and when good news comes, it can go unnoticed.
Our area's access to cheap and clean hydropower is one of those things that everyone seems to think about, but very few people fully understand. With such an abundance of water going over Niagara Falls, how can we not have the lowest energy rates in the country? It turns out the answer was the need to get the Albany leadership focused on that resource.
The Niagara Power Project generates 2.4 million kilowatts of clean hydropower each year, and a portion of the low-cost hydropower is used for economic development in our area. When that locally allocated hydropower went unused, the power was sold by the New York Power Authority on the open market, with the "proceeds" going to other purposes across the state. Decisions were made out of NYPA's headquarters in White Plains about those proceeds – not Buffalo or Niagara Falls.
In 2009, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and its government affairs team focused like a laser to fix the situation. It wasn't easy, and at first those efforts received minimal attention. In 2010, the partnership pushed legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, and Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, through the Legislature mandating that hydropower proceeds be used for local economic development purposes. Gov. David Paterson signed the bill, but opposition from special interests and technicalities held up implementation of the law. Last year, the partnership tried again, and although the revised bill passed the Senate, it was not addressed by the Assembly.
In 2012, success! The Proceeds Bill became part of the state budget, was signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and is now law. The governor and his staff's leadership on this important matter was incredible, once again showing Cuomo's commitment to economic development in our area. Proceeds from the sale of unused hydropower will now be used for economic development projects within 30 miles of the Power Project, and most people estimate that should generate about $7 million in new economic development money each year. Even better, our share of the proceeds has been held in escrow since 2010, so there's already more than $13 million in cash waiting to help business expand.
That's real money, not just tax incentives or deferrals, that will contribute to economic development each year. The flexibility of this program will allow a wide range of employers and industries to expand. The success of Proceeds is a game-changer that's worth celebrating.?
Paul Tokasz of Cheektowaga is former majority leader of the New York State Assembly.