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River Agency remains hopeful on state legislation to use power proceeds

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LOUISVILLE – The St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency will concentrate its efforts into getting state legislation allowing it to cash in on the unused portion of its 20 megawatts of low-cost hydropower by the end of the state’s legislative session if measures allowing the move are not passed with the state’s 2013-2014 budget.

The River Agency was allocated $16 million and 20 megawatts of low-cost hydropower by the New York Power Authority to be used for economic development in St. Lawrence County. The money and power was sought to make up for inequities between NYPA’s relicensing settlements to operate the St. Lawrence-FDR power dam in Massena and the Niagara power project in Western New York.

An initial deal between the two entities would have allowed the River Agency to use as it saw fit money from the sale of any power not allocated to aid new and expanding businesses. That deal was rejected in late 2010 by former Gov. David A. Paterson because it was outside the scope of NYPA’s powers under state law. Separate state legislation has since been sought to allow the agency to sell unused portions of the power and use the proceeds for economic development initiatives.

North country state senators had sought to include language in the Senate’s budget bill allowing unused power to be sold, but the Assembly did not include the same language in its budget. The state budget is not yet finalized, but Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said last week that she did not expect the power issue to be resolved as part of the budget process.

“It’s not in legislative form yet,” River Agency Chairman Robert O. McNeil said Tuesday. “There are a number of people that have talked over a period of time over monetizing the 20 megawatts. But there is not a lot of support in the governor’s office. It looks like we are going to have stand-alone legislation.”

Currently the River Agency is hoping to copy a model for selling, or monetizing, power allocations already in place for power produced at Western New York’s Niagara Power Project. In 2005, two subsets of power were allocated as part of NYPA’s relicensing agreement with seven host communities in Western New York. Twenty-five megawatts was filtered to those communities to help lower local electric bills, while 24 megawatts was monetized with a guaranteed annual financial floor of $5 million and provided to the general funds of the communities named in the settlement.

State Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, have all shown an interest in legislation allowing the River Agency to use the proceeds from selling unused portions of the 20 megawatts to encourage economic development, Mr. McNeil said. “I have talked to Sen. Ritchie a number of times about monetizing the 20 megs, of which she supports,” Mr. McNeil said. “There have also been a number of resolutions sent out to local municipalities encouraging support for legislation among our state legislators.”

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