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ST. REGIS REFERENDUM: May pull out of National Grid
Posted By DAVID NESSETH, DNESSETH@ STANDARD-FREEHOLDER.COM
Posted 1 hour ago
After establishing exit terms from utility giant National Grid in January, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe is holding a public vote on whether it should follow through and form its own power system.
On June 6 the tribe will ask its residents whether it should sever ties with National Grid after 60 years, a move that follows economic and engineering feasibility studies by St. Regis about the creation of its own $13.7-million tribal utility.
The studies indicate that a St. Regis owned and operated power system could immediately cut power rates for customers by 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour, with savings of up to three cents per kilowatt hour after the standalone system is paid for.
"We are being proactive in meeting the future energy needs of the community," said Tribal Chief James Ransom in a news release. "This will give us the opportunity to deliver electricity within our territory, create jobs in the process and continue on the path of economic self-sufficiency."
The tribe's purchase would be for a sub-station and distribution system, as well as facilities and equipment
Chief Barb Lazore has indicated that high electrical costs are hurting businesses in the community, and a tribal electrical system would help them address the problem.
If the tribe should choose to leave National Grid, it would have to pay an exit fee of $4.3 million, but the tribe also estimates it will be spared future delivery rate increases expected from National Grid. The exit fee covers the National Grid poles, lines and equipment on the reservation.
The tribe's January agreement with National Grid was reached after a Dec. 13 referendum. It ratified an official agreement that had gone unsigned since 1949, finally giving St. Regis access to annual payments of $71,400 for allowing National Grid's equipment on its land. The agreement also laid the framework for assistance from National Grid if St. Regis decides to start its own power system. It would allow National Grid to continue to operate and maintain the electrical distribution system for up to two years to allow the tribe time to physically separate its facilities from the National Grid system.
There is also a provision for National Grid to train up to three St. Regis community members as electrical line workers.
The Tribe says it's modeling its strategy after Massena, which formed the Massena Electric Department over the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation in the eighties. Though its rates were initially the same, the tribe said the Massena Electric Department's rates haven't risen as sharply as its competitor's over time.
The executive summary of the St. Regis studies will be distributed to St. Regis residents by direct mail. A series of public meetings will also take place before the referendum vote. The first one will take place on May 16, 2009 at 10 a. m. in the community building.
DO IT! Our town has had its own electric utility since 1915. The rates are lower and the service is better than any privately-owned electric utility in the State. And, all decision-making rests with the community. (I only regret that the St. Regis people are having National Grid run their system for a couple years, and relying on them for assistance in storms, etc. A clean break would be better. They might rather seek help from the other publicly-owned utilities in New York, until they can run the system on their own.)