Field notes: new energy, new Buffalo
Editor’s note: From time to time, Dean Seavers will tear a page from his notebook and share what he’s learned from customers, stakeholders, and employees across National Grid’s U.S. footprint.
I’ll be candid: My vision of Buffalo was that of a rustbelt city, choked by years of economic decline. As a child of Sandusky, Ohio, a similar city on the shores of Lake Erie, I know firsthand what that legacy means to the livelihoods of working families.
I was thrilled to have that vision dispelled on a visit to Buffalo and our facilities one day a few weeks ago, when I was greeted with optimism, innovation, and a waterfront city bursting with activity.
This is what many are calling New Buffalo. It’s a city that missed many of the economic booms of the last fifty years, but is now firmly embracing a remarkable, economic resurgence. One important piece of that story is the ecological and economical transformation of RiverBend, an industrial brownfield that some thirty years ago was the 90-acre Republic Steel Plant.
Residents say the change is nothing short of miraculous. SolarCity acquired the brownfield and is building a million-plus square-foot factory, projected to be the largest solar panel manufacturer in the western hemisphere.
The high-tech factory’s electricity needs are great – new capacity and infrastructure are needed – and is but one example of what is being seen across the city and has made National Grid a natural partner in the rebuilding of Buffalo.
Energy is the catalyst here at RiverBend, bringing green manufacturing, 1500-plus jobs, and economic development to a city that’s bounced back with a vengeance. In fact, under Mayor Byron Brown’s watch, more than $4 billion in public and private development has been announced since 2012. That includes the $190 million HarborCenter the Buffalo Sabres have opened downtown with skating rinks, restaurants, and retail space.
My tour took me from RiverBend to HarborCenter and City Hall, and then the impressive Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The medical campus has doubled in size in recent years and new building is ongoing. The highlight for me was the facility’s Innovation Center, which was established with support of a National Grid grant.
Frankly, our partnership here represents an impressive level of opportunity as we make it part of our mission to drive growth and innovation in local communities and economies. As we continue to hone our stakeholder management approach, new revenue opportunities become more evident. It’s no wonder BNMC is poised to be a Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) demonstration site for us.
Kudos to Ken Daly and Dennis Elsenbeck who understand that local leadership can be far reaching. Along with Terry Sobolewski, Ed White, and our ambitious engineers, project planners, dedicated lineworkers, and support teams, they’re pushing the innovation envelope in this city, and the whole country is watching. Paving new territory, Dennis and his customer & community team are engaging business and community leaders, the region’s 1.2 million residents, and tapping into their immense appetite for expansion, energy efficiency, and renewables.
Here’s an example and one of my favorite stories: A year or so ago, we jumped in on a streetscape project and put in a $4.2 million underground conduit just in case somebody needs it in the future. Of course it will be utilized. That’s stakeholder leadership. That’s Connect21. That’s REV. That’s our strategy to build 21st century electricity and natural gas infrastructure in the U.S. That’s New Buffalo.