090324 NYPA officials3

090324 NYPA officials3/nfg DAN CAPPELLAZZO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Niagara Falls - New York Power Authority President and CEO Richard Kessel speaks with the Niagara Gazette Editorial Board about there decision to free the proposed rate hike.

Richard Kessel conceded on Wednesday that his organization can and should do more for Western New York.

The chief executive officer of the New York Power Authority also insisted he’s personally committed to seeing that it does just that in the future.

“I’m not a politician,” Kessel said during a stop at Buffalo’s Inner Harbor. “I’m looking to do the right thing for Western New York. I’m interested in jobs, not politics.”

Politicians from Western New York have been highly critical of Kessel and his authority of late. The authority’s new CEO who has been on the job for about six months has been hardest hit by state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, and U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. While Maziarz and Higgins represent political parties that often find themselves at odds with one another, both men agree the power authority’s profits from the low-cost electricity generated at the Robert Moses Power Project in Lewiston have not matched the returns to its host community.

Maziarz recently assailed the authority’s handling of a low-cost power arrangement in his district. The Mississippi-based steel producer and recycler, Steel Development Co., recently called off plans to build a manufacturing facility in Orleans County, in part, because company officials were dissatisfied with the power authority’s attempts to provide them with a sufficient low-cost hydropower deal. The company’s plan called for an investment of $200 million and the creation of 1,000 construction jobs and 300 permanent factory positions.

Following Wednesday’s announcement about a new power authority plan to build a wind farm in Western New York, Kessel said he is now personally involved in trying to broker an acceptable low-cost power deal for Steel Development Co. Kessel said he spoke to the company’s chairman on Friday and the pair have agreed to meet in the coming weeks in an effort to put a deal together.

“We’d love to see them come here and those talks are continuing,” he said.

Kessel said while the authority is interested in putting together development deals in Western New York, it also must operate under existing state and federal regulations for allocating the power that is available. Kessel said the authority has several other promising deals in the works that will “absolutely” lead to the creation of local jobs.

“There are a lot of companies that want a limited amount of megawatts that we have,” he said. “You can’t give everything to everyone otherwise there won’t be enough left for a lot of other businesses that want to come here.”

Higgins has directed most of his criticism at the authority’s history of handling the low-cost electricity and revenue at its disposal. The congressman now plans to introduce federal legislation to keep more of the profits from the Niagara Power Project in Western New York. According to Higgins’ office, the authority finished 2008 with a $309 million surplus, 78 percent of which Higgins says came directly from the Lewiston facility. Higgins says $63 million of the authority’s profits were earned from the sale of replacement and expansion power that is supposed to stay in Western New York, but instead went unused.

“We need to reclaim what is uniquely ours,” Higgins said. “Without the Niagara River, located in our backyard, which feeds the Power Project, NYPA would have a losing operation.”

Kessel agreed the authority has not done enough for Western New York over the years, but said he’s committed to addressing the misteps of the past. He added that he believes, in terms of returning power and profits where they are earned in Western New York, he is “on the same path” as Maziarz and Higgins.

“We’ve got a lot of unallocated megawatts that we ought to be returning to Western New York,” he said. “I completely agree with congressman Higgins’ philosophy that NYPA has to get a lot of that unallocated power and put it back into economic development here in Western New York”

Maziarz said he’s not sure anything can be done at this point to save the Steel Development project in Orleans County, but did speak to Kessel and is aware the authority’s CEO plans to give it a try. Maziarz said he encouraged Steel Development’s CEO to keep an open mind.

As for Kessel’s renewed commitment to Western New York, Maziarz said he’ll believe it when he starts to see more action behind the words. Maziarz said recent history shows Kessel and the power authority will be more apt to answer to Gov. David Paterson and officials downstate. He said the evidence can be found in the authority’s recent decision to allow the state to fill its budget hole with $550 million in surplus authority revenue.

“I’m skeptical because I’ve heard all of that before,” Maziarz said. “I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I’m extremely skeptical.”