With the completion of its $35-million headquarters months away, the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at Stony Brook University was faced with a distressing problem - it had no operating budget.

Enter former LIPA chairman Richard Kessel. On Thursday, Kessel, as chief executive of the New York Power Authority, publicly signed a check for $500,000 to fund the center's first year of operations.

Robert Catell, the former KeySpan / National Grid executive who is chairman of the new center, said the grant is an essential infusion that will help the center hire a staff and encourage other donors to kick in to keep the center going. "Now that I've got the seed money I can talk about matching funds" from other entities, Catell said.

Yacov Shamash, dean of the College of Engineering & Applied Sciences at Stony Brook, said the center will eventually have a staff of 200 people.

Kessel said one of those staffers will be a full-time NYPA employee who will work with the center on advancing smart-grid technology. NYPA also has offered a grant of up to $250,000 to the center for access to certain smart-grid research.

Funding to begin operations for the center was a crucial step as Stony Brook increases its profile as a center for energy research. Last month, Gov. David A. Paterson and the New York Energy Research and Development Authority designated the university to lead the New York Energy Policy Institute, a consortium of research centers and experts to advise the state on energy policy.

Funding to build the Advanced Energy Center was the work of state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who secured $35 million for construction two years ago.

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