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NYPA power to GM site could end in 2013

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MASSENA — New York Power Authority electricity has been flowing to the General Motors Powertrain site since the automotive plant opened more than 50 years ago.

It continued to flow after the 2009 closure and 2011 demolition of the plant. But NYPA may end that supply when its contract with the site expires next year, leaving it up to the Massena Electric Department to power it.

That’s creating concerns both for MED officials, who are worried the additional load could drive up ratepayers’ costs, and those trying to redevelop the parcel.

NYPA originally provided 12 megawatts of low-cost hydropower when GM Massena opened in the late 1950s, according to MED Superintendent Andrew J. McMahon. When the plant closed, NYPA found new uses for most of that as “preservation power,” low-cost electricity for economic development projects throughout the north country.

NYPA continued to provide electricity for the environmental cleanup activities and remaining site infrastructure, such as the wastewater treatment plant, after the closure because of the power contract in place there. The parcel is now using between one-half and one megawatt of NYPA power, according to M. Brendan Mullen, GM site cleanup manager.

With the site no longer used for manufacturing, NYPA may use the remaining power for other economic development projects in the north country when the contract expires next June, NYPA spokesman Michael Saltzman said. The site could land another low-cost power contract if a new industry moves there in the future.

“We are exploring the various options with the appropriate parties regarding the disposition of this power,” Mr. Saltzman said in an email. “We will continue to work with all parties to resolve any issues.”

The additional load MED could absorb from taking on the GM site could drive up ratepayers’ costs, Mr. McMahon said. MED board Chairman James M. Shaw recently wrote to NYPA CEO Gil C. Quiniones expressing those same concerns.

“I don’t think it will be a big number, but it all adds up,” Mr. McMahon said. “We’d rather not go down that road.”

Mr. Mullen said he is prepared to run equipment on the property during off-peak hours to cut down on the additional amount of electricity MED would have to purchase.

Mr. McMahon also learned through discussions with NYPA staff that the agency also may remove its high-voltage electricity lines from the site. Those lines are a selling point to prospective industries that need high-voltage capability, and their removal could inhibit redevelopment, Mr. McMahon said.

“If NYPA is removing those high-voltage lines, they are removing one of the more marketable attributes of the facility,” Mr. McMahon said.

Mr. Saltzman disputed that and said NYPA has no plans to remove the lines from the site. Keeping the power lines in place would be ideal, said Patricia Spitzley, assistant redevelopment manager for the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust, which owns the GM site.

“We would like as many options as possible in our economic development toolbox,” Ms. Spitzley said. “Any proposal that would take away one of the benefits at our site of course is a problem. It diminishes the amount of attributes we have to make the site attractive.”

If the trust can find additional prospects for the property by June, Ms. Spitzley said, she hoped NYPA would reconsider any plans it has.

“They may change their mind because of the interest and the amount of power (the prospects) need,” Ms. Spitzley said.

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