The New York Power Authority on Thursday recognized the 50th anniversary of the Feb. 10, 1961, ceremony marking the start of operations at the Niagara Power Project.
Led by NYPA Chairman Michael Townsend and Richard M. Kessel, NYPA president and CEO, both officials recalled the 1961 ceremony that featured then-NYPA Chairman Robert Moses and included taped messages of congratulations by several United States presidents. The event was followed by a symbolic "switching on" of power by then-Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller.
NYPA reported the Feb. 10, 1961, ceremonial start up was just days following the actual "first power" that occurred on Jan. 28, 1961, when electricity was first produced by the Niagara project.
"Feb. 10 marks a full half-century during which the Power Authority's Niagara Power Project has contributed mightily as an economic development engine for Western New York by providing clean, low-cost, reliable energy to many of its finest industries and communities," said Townsend. "Yet progress must continue as the Power Authority rededicates its efforts, in honor of this historic milestone, to the task of adding even greater value to the benefits we supply to the region."
"The construction of the Niagara project is a testament to the dedication and leadership of such visionaries as President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Robert Moses. It is vital to mention the hard work and sacrifice of the thousands of people who participated in the construction and those today who commit themselves to continuing the outstanding reputation of this marvelous facility. It is in recognition of these accomplishments and the economic contributions of the Niagara project that makes it important to mark the project's first commercial power," Townsend added.
"As one of the New York's most valued resources, the jobs and other benefits generated by electricity from the Niagara Power Project touch almost every home and business throughout Western New York. In the past two years alone, NYPA has helped to create or preserve some 7,200 jobs in the region. The focus on job creation and retention in the region continues to be one of the Power Authority's top priorities," said Kessel. "Niagara's benefits to New York are undeniable, as an engineering marvel, and indeed as a bulwark integral to supporting Western New York's economy."
Niagara Power Project - How it All Began
The Power Authority's job of redeveloping the Niagara River's hydroelectric potential and the devastating rockslide of 1956 are intertwined. When the Niagara Mohawk's Schoellkopf hydropower plant was destroyed in the rockslide, low-cost power to the region was suddenly in short supply. In 1957, President Eisenhower opened the doors for NYPA to develop the power project by signing the Niagara Redevelopment Act, directing the Federal Power Commission (now known as FERC, the Federal Energy Regulating Commission) to issue NYPA a license to build the Niagara project.
On March 18, 1958, under the leadership of New York's "master builder," Robert Moses, construction began. With a team of nearly 12,000 workers dedicated to bringing the project to completion, first power was achieved on Jan. 28, 1961, ahead of the Feb. 10 deadline. In a recorded message, President John F. Kennedy joined in the first power dedication held at the Niagara University Student Center with nearly 4,500 guests in attendance.
The project was declared in full operation on Oct. 11, 1962. Today, the project provides electricity at below-market rates to:
•Roughly 130 Niagara Frontier companies employing more than 31,000 people;
•Residents and businesses in the state's municipally electric and rural cooperative electric systems, including 17 systems in Western New York alone;
•Municipal members of Niagara Power Coalition, Niagara University and the Tuscarora Nation pursuant to the project's federal license; and
•Seven neighboring states as required by the federal legislation.
The Niagara Power Project is the largest hydroelectric facility in New York state. It is ranked the third largest hydropower facility in the nation behind the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams, both in Washington state. The project continues to offer a variety of socioeconomic advantages to the people and industries of Western New York, including low-cost power, and its employment and spending.
"The Niagara project's history is full of the hard work, determination and success of so many men and women from the region. Today's staff continues that tradition of excellence in every aspect of project operations and community work," said D. Patrick Curley, trustee, at NYPA. "I am proud to be associated with an organization that continues to be such an asset to the area I call home."
Having received the first license to operate the Niagara Power Project in 1958, NYPA was issued a new license for 50 years on March 15, 2007. On Sept. 1, 2007, the new license took effect, ensuring the Niagara project will continue operating for another half century with continuing environmental and recreational benefits to the region.
Through the relicensing of the project, NYPA has provided $109.4 million in less than four years, from September 2007 to January 2011, in financial benefits through a myriad of environmental, recreation, energy and economic development projects in the local communities. At the end of the license term, NYPA will have provided around $1 billion in financial benefits to the surrounding area.
"The Power Authority has recognized its ability to enhance the quality of life in Western New York beyond the low-cost electricity provided by the Niagara project," said Kessel. "Over the past 50 years, the Power Authority has committed itself to supporting the community by providing many educational opportunities in energy, economic development and the environment and giving back to those who give so much, our first responders and area hospitals."
In the Western New York region, specifically Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming counties, the Niagara Power Project today provides low-cost power to some 130 companies supporting about 31,000 jobs with a payroll estimated at more than $2.1 billion per year. According to studies, the project's low-cost electricity represents estimated annual savings of more than $500 million to its customers.
NYPA also realizes the importance of protecting and maintaining the environment for future generations to enjoy while also strengthening the regional economy. Projects funded under the Niagara Power Project's federal license include:
•$450 million over 50 years for development of the Niagara River Greenway;
•An acceleration of relicensing payments enabling the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation to issue approximately $105 million in bonds to fast-track efforts to transform downtown Buffalo's long-dormant canal district into a bustling mixed-use tourism and cultural magnet.
•$12 million fund for eight Habitat Improvement Projects (HIP) to protect fish and wildlife within the Niagara River basin.
Planning is under way for a series of 50th anniversary activities highlighting the history and contributions of the Niagara Power Project. As plans are finalized, event details will be announced.