Richard Kessel, the former chief of the Long Island Power Authority — and a Bellmore-Merrick native — was recently elected to head up the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency.
The IDA is an agency with the aim of drawing businesses to Nassau County to promote tax revenue and overall economic prosperity. Its board of directors is able to use tax breaks and payments in lieu of taxes in order to entice businesses to reside in Nassau.
Kessel, 68, of Merrick, said that he plans to use his energy experience to give the IDA new tools for bringing businesses to the county. The former Bellmorite has a long history in the energy sector. He was a leader in the movement to shut down the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant in Suffolk County in the 1980s, as well as an alternative energy proponent during his tenure at LIPA. Kessel said in January that the Nassau IDA, “in addition to tax breaks, should be looking at energy breaks as well.”
Addressing Nassau County legislators before they voted to reappoint him to the IDA’s board of directors, Kessel pointed out that LIPA, National Grid and PSEG Long Island could be used to help attract businesses to the county. “If I were a business and someone told me they would make my building more energy-efficient, and lower my electric bill, and make it sounder for the environment,” he said, “that’s a home run.”
“The more you can do to give energy incentives — for instance, renewable energy, solar energy,” Kessel said. “You are going to attract a lot of companies to Long Island. I think we’ve ignored using energy as a tool to get businesses to come here and move to Nassau County.”
Kessel lived in Bellmore for 20 years after earning his master’s degree in government and political science from Columbia University, before moving back to Merrick — where he grew up.
During Kessel’s tenure as LIPA’s chairman — and eventually as its president and CEO — he oversaw the creation of 1,800 megawatts of new power on the Island, enough to light 1.8 million homes.
The late LIPA Trustee Larry Elovich told the Herald in 2007, as Kessel stepped down as president and CEO, after a turbulent tenure, that LIPA had become Kessel’s “heart and soul.”
Another former trustee, John Fabio, said at the time that Kessel “may have his share of critics, but those who curse him will not do so in the dark because, true to his word, he kept the lights on.”
After his nearly two decades at LIPA, Kessel served as president and CEO of the New York Power Authority from October 2008 to September 2011.
He took the reins of the IDA just as County Executive Laura Curran last week announced a number of reforms she plans to institute at the agency — and while the IDA undergoes an audit by County Comptroller Jack Shnirman.
In her state of the county speech on March 28, Curran said that she plans to allow for public comment at IDA meetings for the first time and improve the agency’s communication, promote the use of local labor and expand benefits for transit-oriented development in the county’s downtowns.
Kessel said he favors expanding the IDA’s notice requirements so that elected officials in the districts in which PILOTS are requested will be notified. He vowed to legislators that he would be open to their ideas as well, when it comes to improving the IDA. “You guys have terrific ideas, and I think that we need a lot of ideas, because I think the IDA can do a great job for Nassau County,” he said. “We have a budget and a financial challenge in the county, and I think the IDA can be one of the keys to the solution.”
Kessel was recently elected to the board of directors at United Way of Long Island, and also serves as chairman of the Education and Assistance Corporation, a board member of Vision Long Island, Nassau Community College Foundation and the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center.
He lives in Merrick, with his wife. Diane, and his son Eli.
– Scott Brinton contributed to this story.