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Low-cost electricity

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North country state lawmakers are having the wrong debate about the sale of 20 megawatts of low-cost electricity generated by the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project at Massena.

The New York Power Authority has granted 20 megawatts of power to the St. Lawrence River Redevelopment Agency for distribution. The agency plans to sell any unallocated power and use the proceeds for its community development fund. The issue in the debate now is one of distance — setting a mileage limit on how far away recipients of the proceeds generated by power sales should be located from the Massena hydro facility.

Sens. Patricia A. Ritchie and Joseph A. Griffo are backing legislation that would allow the sale of power to benefit businesses and other beneficiaries residing up to 40 miles from the Robert H. Moses-Saunders Dam. Their plan would allow revenue from the power sale to fund, among other things, energy-related projects by nonprofits and small businesses as well as support tourism and marketing.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, though, wants the proceeds of power sales to stay in St. Lawrence County and not go beyond its boundaries into Franklin County as would be the case with the senators proposal. Sen. Ritchie could also support a restrictive St. Lawrence County-only plan, but there has also been mention of Jefferson County reaping some benefits.

But this not a territorial issue; it is not about drawing a line on a map to create some gerrymandered district. The real issue is about the best use of a public resource.

From inception, power from the Moses-Suanders dam was intended to attract industrial users demanding huge amounts of electricity by supplying them with low-cost power as it has for Alcoa with its hundreds of well-paying jobs.

Once the low-cost power is monetized or sold as proposed to benefit local communities and small nonprofits or businesses that don’t create jobs that power is squandered. The long-term benefits of investing in job-creating industry will be lost to short-term grants and gifts. Creating industrial jobs should be at the core of the debate.

The low-cost power should be used to build an industrial base for St. Lawrence County that will promote economic development and be a valuable tool in attracting industries that require a lot of electricity in their manufacturing process as a way to make and keep the north country and New York competitive.

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