ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- A public utility with a mission to provide low-cost power for New Yorkers is spending money on planes, pilots and six-figure salaries while the state's residents pay some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, according to a report Thursday from the state comptroller's office.
The New York Power Authority, with 16 power plants including large hydroelectric dams on the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers, pays one-third of its 1,636 employees more than $100,000 a year, the report said. At the same time, it offers staff access to the state retirement system, spent $2.4 million last year on 401(k) matching funds and provided free health and life insurance benefits to some retirees.
It also has held onto a corporate plane for employee travel and has both pilots and travel agents on staff, the report found.
"New Yorkers pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country and need the rate relief that NYPA could provide if it appropriately focused its resources," Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.
He noted that the state budget this year also authorized receipt of $90 million from the utility, continuing a long history of diverting its funds to cover general state expenses, he said. The utility has given the state government more than $1.2 billion in the past decade.
NYPA said Thursday the comptroller's office misinterpreted key facts while ignoring utility changes over the past few years. The utility said its state contributions, which have been "significantly reduced," don't affect its rates, and that its plane is a small aircraft used by engineers and operating personnel in monitoring and maintaining its power plants, 14 substations and 1,400 circuit miles of transmission lines across the state, used in reaching remote sites and in emergencies and only after considering alternatives.
"NYPA salaries are comparable to other large public power utilities in the U.S., but significantly lower than investor-owned electric utilities in New York," the public utility said. It must pay "competitive salaries" to keep qualified personnel to run highly technical facilities, while its travel desk enforces government-rate air fares and travel policies, it said.
According to the report, the utility reported $2.8 billion in revenues last year, mainly from selling low-cost electricity to more than 700 businesses, 115 government entities, 188 nonprofits and six investor-owned utilities, with some income from charges to other utilities for use of its transmission lines. It had $2.6 billion in expenses and $1.75 billion in debt.
Its staff, including 31 vice presidents, 49 directors and 123 managers, had total compensation of $146.3 million, including 570 employees with totals of $100,000 or more. That's 35 percent of NYPA's staff, compared with 8 percent of state workers and 14 percent of New Yorkers overall earning that much, according to the report.
In a 2001 report, state auditors recommended the utility sell one of its two private planes, disagreeing with NYPA's analysis that it was less expensive than using commercial flights. NYPA gave one to state police in 2006, and in 2007 sold the other one to a private company. The utility bought a 2007 Beechcraft King Air, a turboprop with a reported contract value of $6.4 million.
NYPA employs three full-time pilots as well as a director of aviation and travel operations who together were paid almost $400,000 last year, the comptroller's report said. It also has two travel coordinators and a travel manager.
The utility is one of the largest state authorities — public benefit corporations established to finance, build and manage public projects.