The mighty Niagara River has generated electricity since the construction of the Schoellkopf Generating Station in 1881. For many years, the river generated a tremendous amount of low cost electricity utilized by many local manufacturers and industries. The Niagara Power Project, created in the wake of a natural disaster that destroyed the Schoellkopf Station, began generating power in 1961. Unfortunately, the dedication of Niagara-generated electricity to our region has declined significantly since that time.
Buffalo, Erie County and Western New York have a long history as an industrial-based economy. From our past steel making industry to the automobile and high-tech industries of today, large industrial-based jobs have helped feed the economy of our region for generations. Each of these industries is impacted by the high cost of electricity. As the cost of electricity continues to rise, so too do the costs of producing durable goods - be they cars or computers, printed materials or plastics - increase.
With Niagara Falls a short drive to our north, many people look to the Falls with the idea that Western New York benefits from the power-generating capacity of the New York Power Authority's Niagara Power Project facility. Unfortunately, local businesses simply do not benefit from that power generating capacity.
Western New York's businesses pay electricity rates that are 50-60% higher than the national average. This increase cost translates into fewer resources for job retention, business expansion and growth and reinvestment into plant and equipment and other business infrastructure. Instead of keeping low-cost hydropower in this community, NYPA sells it to subsidize its other money-losing operations.
Think of the impact low-cost power could have on local industry. Large manufacturers in Western New York pay exorbitant electricity costs that could be reduced with more low-cost power available, freeing up capital for job and business expansion that would benefit local working families. Were local companies paying discounted kilowatt hour rates for the power they need, Erie County's job growth potential could increase exponentially.
NYPA has essentially admitted that it subsidizes less profitable operations in other parts of the state with the huge profits it earns from the sale of Niagara and St. Lawrence hydropower. A New York State Comptroller's audit showed that NYPA earned hundreds of millions in additional revenue from upstate hydropower plants in Niagara County and in Massena (on the St. Lawrence River), which they allowed to subsidize less profitable NYPA operations in other parts of the state.
As a Member of Congress, Brian was able to have a seat at the table during recent discussions on the federal relicensing of the Niagara Power Project. As a voice for businesses and working families Brian was successful in securing a settlement worth $279 million - nearly three times the amount originally offered to this community.
Thanks to the efforts of Brian and all of the community partners who fought for Western New York's fair share in the relicensing process, settlement dollars will be reinvested into one of this region's greatest natural resources - the Buffalo waterfront.
Still, Brian's not done yet. His focus is only shifted from relicensing to reclaiming our fair share of the benefits of our region's ability to produce clean, renewable hydroelectric power.