Power Authority Relicensing Proceeds’ Tortured Trail to your pocket

In Niagara County

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By Paulette Glasgow

Information is power. The more information you know, the more you are educated on the facts.

Recently, I received a flyer referring to the $153 debit card Lewiston residents were receiving, and I wondered if those receiving the debit cards knew all the facts. In order to know the facts you must travel back to 2005. At that time the New York State Power Authority was obligated to re-file with the federal government for relicensing to operate the Niagara Power Project.

Since a large portion of the authority’s tax exempt property was located within Lewiston, the town board felt residents had been impacted the most and consideration needed to be given to compensate for the authority not paying any taxes.

Prior to the authority filing for relicensing, Lewiston was approached to become a member of a group of stakeholders “hosting” an authority facility within their municipality. This group of seven members consisting of the Towns of Lewiston and Niagara, City of Niagara Falls and the Lewiston Porter, Niagara Wheatfield and City of Niagara Falls
School Districts was called the Niagara Power Coalition. Lewiston’s representative on the Coalition was then Supervisor Fred Newlin. This group of seven would become the negotiating agents for how a 50-year, $1 billion deal would be settled.

Each member had legitimate reasons for why they needed and deserved something from the relicensing but no member had more reason than Lewiston. Prior to the authority re-filing, each coalition member was given a proffer, or offer of settlement, so the authority could secure its license.

The offer extended to Lewiston was the following: $25.5 million for recreational programs over the next 50 years, amounting to $510,000 per year to be used for such projects as the Lewiston waterfront, Sanborn Farm Museum and park development; $42.5 million for the next 50 years, amounting to $850,000 per year to be used for anything Lewiston wanted such as fighting hazardous waste, lowering taxes, funding the library or improving drainage and finally, a block of 25 megawatts of power to be divided equally with each member receiving approximately 3.5 megawatts.

Although this offer may seem to some to be generous, had Lewiston accepted it for the next 50 years residents would be forfeiting millions of dollars. So in the words of Tim “the tool man” Taylor, Newlin felt Lewiston deserved more power, and he negotiated a separate contract with the Power Authority that gave Lewiston an additional block of power. Under the terms of that contract the additional megawatts of power were to be “distributed to all electricity users in Lewiston” as an electric credit amounting to a 15-20% savings.

For nearly three years residents received this credit until the 2010 Town Board took it away, selling the power on the open market and stockpiling the revenue into a special interest, accumulating, power allocation account. These funds sat in this account for years until former Supervisor Dennis Brochey approached the Power Authority with a plan that would use the revenue from the sale as an energy savings that would benefit both the town and residents. According to this plan some revenue would be used to make town facilities energy efficient and the remainder would be applied as a credit on residential electric bills or as a yearly rebate check.

On November 16, 2015, after Brochey left town service, the town board, without explaining why, changed the benefactor of the entire 6.5 megawatt block of power to itself and special districts, and any hope residents would receive anything from the sale of this power ended that night.

But, what became of the revenue from the sale of this power? Well, it was deposited into a special power allocation account. And sat there until this year when resident Rosemary Warren began to inquire about its whereabouts. And at every meeting since, Warren has inquired why this money hasn’t been returned to the residents as rebate checks. Finally, at a July meeting the town board decided to return this money being held hostage as a “one time only” debit card. But instead of sending $177, each household was sent $153 because $24 was used to process the debit card. In the letter to each resident there’s the following: “the town board along with myself determined that the best use of these funds was to return them to the residents.”

Best use, oh really, maybe the best use should be as it was originally intended as a cost savings on residential electric bills. Success, it’s said, has many fathers but failure is an orphan, it seems this town board wishes to take credit for something it had nothing to do with, and if hadn’t been for one individual, residents never would have received their money.

But there are questions that need to be answered involving accountability and transparency.

Why were the inquiries of a resident ignored regarding disbursement of this money?

Why was the original 2007 agreement changed, and why hasn’t the town explained the reasoning behind that change?

Why did the town make itself the benefactor of the revenue generated from the sale of this power and not the public?

Why is the revenue from the sale being stockpiled into the town’s general fund to be used in special districts such as French Landing?

Why did the town state that the disbursement was a “one-time” only occurrence when there’s 40 years remaining on the agreement?

To quote John Adams “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

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