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Cuomo pushes low-cost power bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is pushing for legislation that its advocates say will create jobs in the north country and help farmers with utility bills.


The Power for Jobs program, which provides low-cost electricity to businesses, would become permanent, larger and available to some farmers if Mr. Cuomo's proposed legislation is approved.


"I think it's a terrific proposal by Governor Cuomo," said Richard M. Kessel, CEO and president of the New York Power Authority, which would administer the newly titled Recharge New York program. "I think it captures all the important things that need to be done to create more jobs in places like the north country and upstate New York."


Darrel J. Aubertine, former 48th District state senator, had pushed for a similar bill last year that passed the Senate but died in the Assembly.


This time around, advocates are optimistic that it will pass.


"We almost got there last year on another proposal," Mr. Kessel said. "I'm very confident that with the governor's leadership, this can be accomplished."


The proposed program was outlined in Mr. Cuomo's budget. It's being submitted as stand-alone legislation.


Recharge New York would differ from Power for Jobs in a few major ways. First, it would be permanent, where Power for Jobs had a sunset provision. It also would provide an $8 million discount to farms that pay the residential rate, a long-coveted arrangement. And more megawatts of power would be available for economic development, rather than for reducing residential customers' rates.


The revamped power program's advocates say making it permanent will make it much more effective.


"Now, you're going to have a contract to buy a block of power at a contract price for seven years, rather than waiting every year to see if the Legislature extends the program," said Kenneth J. Pokalsky, the senior director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State.


Mr. Pokalsky said the predictability of a seven-year contract will allow companies to plan ahead, which will make capital investments and employee expansions easier.


Recharge New York will set aside $8 million in energy discounts for farmers who pay the residential rate.


"Having it be more stable, as well as really expanding it, is really exciting for us," said Julie C. Suarez, the director of public policy for the Farm Bureau of New York, an agribusiness lobbying group. "Farmers use a lot of energy to produce food."


The new program would be twice the size of its predecessor, at 910 megawatts. It does so by taking 455 megawatts that are used to reduce electricity bills for residential energy bills upstate. The Buffalo News puts the discount at $2 to $4 a month for a household.


The legislation would provide a $100 million annual discount — the same figure as in 2010 — for residential patrons until 2014, when it would be cut to $70 million. In 2015, it would be cut to $50 million. By 2016, the figure would be cut to $30 million, where it would remain.


A memo accompanying Mr. Cuomo's proposed legislation says the sunset of a surcharge on electricity bills in 2014 will mitigate the effect on upstate residential power users.


The bottom-line effect, Mr. Kessel said, is more jobs.


"I think once the Legislature adopts this, it will ultimately mean using low-cost power through the Power Authority to create thousands of new jobs in places like the north country, where that's critical right now," he said.

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