The New York Power Authority has a long and proud history that has influenced the electric utility industry far beyond the borders of New York State. As an early experiment in public power, it served as a model for federal initiatives such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration, yet faced years of debate and delay in New York. Today, the Power Authority produces some of the cheapest electricity in North America, helping to drive New York's economic revival, while its efforts to promote efficient use of energy and to develop new, environmentally friendly power sources continue to break new ground and to draw national and international attention. NYPA Timeline.
The first seeds of a power authority were planted by New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes (later Chief Justice of the United States), who in 1907 declared that the state's undeveloped waterpower "should be preserved and held for the benefit of the people and should not be surrendered to private interests." Planning for public ownership began, but a proposal eventually foundered in the Legislature because of its high cost.
In 1914, Theodore Roosevelt, former governor and president, warned against "waterpower barons" seeking a monopoly on New York's natural resources. Governor Alfred E. Smith called throughout much of the 1920s for hydropower development by a state authority, but his efforts failed to win approval in the Legislature.
Ultimately, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gained public and legislative support for a Power Authority "to give back to the people the waterpower which is theirs." In 1931, a commission established to study the hydroelectric potential of the St. Lawrence River called for creation of the Authority to build generating facilities on the river. And on April 27, 1931, Roosevelt signed the Power Authority Act into law, calling it the most important action taken during that year's legislative session. "It is my earnest hope that this is the forerunner of cheaper electricity for the homes and farms and small business people of the state," the governor said in a radio speech as he prepared to sign the legislation.
But 23 years were to pass before construction began on the St. Lawrence power project.The delay was caused principally by navigation interests' opposition to the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was developed concurrently with the power project. The solution was found in an agreement the United States had signed with Great Britain in 1909, known as the Boundary Waters Treaty, which established the International Joint Commission (IJC) to resolve disputes over use of the St. Lawrence and other waterways along the U.S.-Canadian border. In 1952, the IJC granted permits to the Power Authority and a neighboring Canadian utility, Ontario Hydro (now Ontario Power Generation), to build a power project spanning the international border.