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Another Voice: Region has an opportunity to expand on the Riverbend project

By Philip Wilcox

The Western New York region is on the rise. We have had the fortunate mix of a governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, who has made strategic investments into the area via the Buffalo Billion, along with local leadership of our Regional Economic Development Council under Empire State Development advancing initiatives incubated by local business, labor and community input.

One such initiative, the RiverBend project, will play a major role in the shift to renewable energy development. That potential became amplified exponentially with the announcement of Solar City’s acquisition of one of the intended development tenants, Silevo, making the local economic impact enormous.

In the spirit of the governor’s economic strategy of a local council driving the local priorities, there is an grand opportunity to deliver a RiverBend development infrastructure that truly reflects future energy technology, along with capturing and reflecting the substantial historical energy development history in Western New York.

The governor’s recent Public Service Commission effort, Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV, is ideally timed to develop RiverBend as a pilot for the REV objectives. Among the challenges is that current PSC tariffs limit what a local utility – in this case National Grid and National Fuel – can do to “service” the utility needs for this new development.

We are fortunate to have state agencies such as the New York Power Authority, along with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, with broad latitude to contribute to the energy infrastructure at RiverBend in a way the reflects 21st century energy technology. The opportunity must have these state agencies participating in a RiverBend energy infrastructure effort, and under the REV initiative, the timing could not be more ideal.

Further, most are aware of our energy development history – including Tesla and Westinghouse, the Schoellkopf Power Plant, the first commercially delivered electricity in the world, the 1901 Pan Am World Exposition that served as an economic development initiative showcasing our “City of Light.”

A RiverBend energy subcommittee could deliver a magnificent RiverBend energy infrastructure truly reflective of the future, rather than being limited by current PSC guidelines. And, as a bonus, we should find a way to fully express our amazing local energy development history in the same stroke.

Regional economic development is guiding us into the future featuring smart growth and the repurposing of buildings and infrastructure from our past. What a story to weave into RiverBend, allowing that development to capture both the future and the past of local energy development.

Philip Wilcox of Pendleton has been active in Western New York energy policy issues for 20 years.