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Kessel ending NYPA reign

MASSENA – The head of a powerful state authority, whose tenure featured always-quotable moments of color during visits to the north country as well as an ongoing investigation by the state into alleged improper donations, stepped down from his post Tuesday.

Richard M. Kessel, the president and CEO of the New York Power Authority since September 2008, resigned during a board meeting in White Plains on Tuesday, effective Sept. 6. He said that one of his first acts as a private citizen may be a north country visit.

“I’ve got a real passion for the north country,” Mr. Kessel said, “I do want to spend some time at Robert Moses beach up in Massena. I’ll be there again.”

His departure – facilitated in no small part by the arrival of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the beginning of the year – will not change the fate of two important north country projects that are in limbo, Mr. Kessel and a board member said Tuesday.

Mr. Kessel, who was very high profile during most of his career with the power authority, had been very low key in recent months.

His tenure, pock-marked with scandal and criticism, was highlighted by a focus on the north country, he said.

Mr. Kessel said that his greatest accomplishment at NYPA was working on a deal that would guarantee Alcoa another long-term power contract, the key to keeping the aluminum company and its hundreds of jobs in the north country.

“That was probably the most important thing that I got accomplished when I was here,” Mr. Kessel said.

He declined to comment on allegations that he doled out donations from NYPA for political reasons, rather than power-related purposes. Inspector General Ellen N. Biben is investigating the matter, the New York Post has reported.

Eugene L. Nicandri, a NYPA board member and Massena resident, said that he worked well with Mr. Kessel.

“He started out under suspicion in upstate New York areas. I think he’s worked hard to dispel those concerns,” Mr. Nicandri said. “I’m aware of criticisms for things that he’s done, and I can’t comment on them very much, because there’s a couple of investigations underway.”

Mr. Nicandri said that two ongoing north country NYPA concerns – 20 megawatts of power that was promised to the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency for economic development and a power-purchase agreement with the Galloo Island Wind Farm developer – would not be affected by Mr. Kessel’s departure.

He said that as NYPA deals with a $1 billion project to put a transmission line under the Hudson River from New York City to New Jersey, the wind-farm power purchase contracts have been “put on the back burner.”

“We’ll look at them as we get a better feel for how this Hudson transmission project is progressing,” Mr. Nicandri said.

Mr. Nicandri said that efforts were ongoing at getting Mr. Cuomo to sign off on a deal that would give the RVRDA 20 megawatts of power. Then-Gov. David A. Paterson declined to sign off on it in December, saying it violated state law.

“The question is what do you have to do to get the governor to sign off on that agreement?” Mr. Nicandri said.

Mr. Kessel, meanwhile, said that figuring out a solution to the 20 megawatts conundrum was one of the goals for his last six weeks.

After Mr. Kessel leaves in September, Gil C. Quiniones, the current chief operating officer, will serve as the interim CEO as the board launches a nationwide search for a replacement.