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Energy

Verizon's data center will be a symbolic win (if it happens)

congressman lee niagara falls.jpg
Daniel Robison
/
WNED
Fresh water and a "strong work ethic" are the local manufacturing base's strongest assets, says Congressman Chris Lee.

If Verizon chooses to build a data center in Niagara County, the Fortune 1000 company will save tens of millions of dollars on electricity, thanks to a deal with the state to receive a steady supply of low-cost hydropower.

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Local manufacturers see the potential project as a rightful return of natural resource that is mostly sent elsewhere.

Manufacturing areas are looking for an edge in an economy that’s becoming more global by the day. And Niagara County is no exception.

“You have a lot of energy, low-cost power if we can get our hands on that, we could give more of that to manufacturing,” says Richard Peers, president of the Greater Niagara Manufacturer’s Association.

Niagara County has lost more than a third of its manufacturing jobs in the last 10 years. At the same time, less than a third of local hydropower is actually used by local companies.

One deal on the table that would change that is the proposed Verizon data center.

“I think the obstacles will go away and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the resources we have here to create some real new high-tech jobs,” says Chris Lee, a Republican just sworn into his second term in Congress.

Pennies-on-the-dollar hydropower is the area’s best chance to compete with the rest of the manufacturing world, according to Lee. But the allocation of 25 megawatts of hydropower and tax breaks that are on the table so far (amounting to a deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars) still haven't convinced to Verizon sign on the dotted line.

A previously-dismissed lawsuit meant to stop the project was appealed to the state’s appellate court earlier this week. But Lee is optimistic.

“I think some of the obstacles will go away,” he says.

Lee's also optimistic about the role western New York could play in the future.

“I believe one day in my lifetime, fresh water will be priced much like it is with oil - by the barrel," Lee says. "We are sitting on a very precious resource that’s got to be protected."

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