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Coalition Aims to Keep Low Cost Power in WNY

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – A coalition of business, elected and labor leaders are working to keep Western New York's competitive edge with low-cost electricity, known as "replacement power."

Businesses within 30 miles of the Niagara switchyard get their electricity from Niagara Mohawk for a little over a penny per kilowatt hour. That's a huge savings for manufacturers, struggling to compete in a tough local economy and an even tougher global market.

But the federal law, enacted in 1957, that guarantees that low rate could end in December 2005. Kevin Donovan, president of United Auto Workers Region 9, says that would cripple businesses and cost jobs.

"I have the Ford Motor Company, American Axle and General Motors with 10,000 employees," Donovan said. "There are 10,000 union members and management personnel who would be affected if we lost this low-cost power."

And Donovan says that number doubles when other businesses are added in. He says that's why organized labor has made getting an extension of the law its number one legislative priority.

It's a top priority with state legislators as well. State Assembly Leader Paul Tokasz says, although the law is good for two more years, time is crucial.

"If we don't pass it on a timely basis, it creates some uncertainty for the companies," Tokasz said. "We want to remove that uncertainty. We want companies to make investments here in Western New York. And the way they're going to make those investments is knowing that this replacement power is going to be in place."

The Western New York state delegation is working on a draft, to be introduced next spring, that would ask the federal government for an extension of the law. State Senator George Maziarz sits on the energy committee. He says they need to keep other areas from tapping into this unique regional asset.

"The worst case scenario is that the downstate legislators see this as a pool of power that they can go after and that they could secure and move downstate," Maziarz said.

He says there's also the risk the federal government could opt to ship the low cost power to other growth areas around the country. But lawmakers say they are optimistic they have the momentum and coalition needed to keep replacement power in Western New York, as it was originally intended.