For years we’ve been talking about the New York Power Authority’s pending relicensing of its Niagara Power Project and the benefits it could bring to the area.

Last week, the first of those benefits arrived for the Niagara Power Coalition as its members were presented with $8 million in up-front settlement money from NYPA.

In addition to the $8 million, coalition entities are slated to receive $3 million in annual payments into a recreation and tourism fund, $5 million in annual payments into a capital improvement fund, and up to 28 megawatts of low-cost electricity.

The settlement terms are part of an agreement signed in June that is contingent upon the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of an application for a renewed license. In all, the Niagara coalition’s take is said to be worth nearly $700 million.

While it’s worth comparing a similar deal made by Erie County — which received $279 million from NYPA over the next 50 years — now’s the time to look forward.

In particular, the members of the Niagara Power Coalition - the city of Niagara Falls, the towns of Lewiston and Niagara, the Niagara Falls, Lewiston-Porter and Niagara-Wheatfield school districts and Niagara County - need to ensure NYPA funds are utilized efficiently and effectively.

They must be seen as an investment with targeted returns. They can’t disappear into general fund use.

We know how things work around here.

So far we’ve seen Niagara County use $750,000 of its $1.04 million settlement to help lower county property taxes. Not bad, but not very far-reaching. Plus there’s the whole argument about using one-time revenues to lower taxes. It benefits taxpayers once.

Thankfully, the rest of the settlement money goes into funds for specific purposes - capital improvements, recreation and tourism.

Let’s hope it’s used wisely.

But it’s not just about money. An important aspect of the coalition’s settlement is 28 megawatts of low-cost electricity.

If it’s used wisely, portions of that low-cost power could help secure, expand and grow local business.

Not many struggling communities have such a gift presented to them. We can’t afford to squander it.