Cohocton Wind Watch: Nipping corruption in the wind
Cohocton Wind Watch is a community citizen organization dedicated to preserve the public safety, property values, economic viability, environmental integrity and quality of life in Cohocton, NY and in surrounding townships. Neighbors committed to public service in order to achieve a reasonable vision for a Finger Lakes region worthy of future generations.

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Nipping corruption in the wind

ALBANY — Following allegations of self-dealing by municipal officials and bullying by energy companies, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo on Thursday put out ethical guidelines for the state's booming wind power industry.

The voluntary guidelines create "rules of the road that are very specific and very clear," said Cuomo, who was joined by local district attorneys and a pair of wind company executives at the Capitol.

The Wind Industry Ethics Code prevents wind companies, which need local zoning approval, from hiring municipal employees. The code also aims to prevent other conflicts of interest between local officials and wind firms. The guidelines also exposed a rift among the more than two dozen power companies ferociously competing for turf in the state.

The head of one group suggested Cuomo may be exploiting "not in my back yard" sentiments against wind companies.

The code includes "reasonable requirements," said Carol Murphy, head of the Alliance for Clean Energy. She added the guidelines should be extended beyond wind energy companies to all companies engaged in significant projects necessitating municipal permits. Murphy, whose group represents 22 wind companies, said she believes the industry is being singled out.

The two companies that joined Cuomo and have signed the code — Noble Environmental Power and First Wind — are not members of the alliance.

But Noble and First Wind are among several companies being investigated by Cuomo and, in some cases, county district attorneys. Landowners have complained of bullying behavior by companies, while other critics describe deals offered to town officials who may have conflicts of interest since some of them must create zoning ordinances that allow wind turbines.

Cuomo has developed ethical guidelines for other industries, such as college lenders, said John Milgrim, a Cuomo spokesman. And while ethical guidelines should pertain to all land developments, Milgrim said wind farms are unique in that they require large tracts of land.

"The nature of this development cuts wider and effects more people than most typical developments," Milgrim said, adding that district attorneys in the counties as well as the state Association of Towns welcomed the clarity Cuomo's guidelines create.

Wind farms, where turbines can rise more than 300 feet high, are becoming a hot topic . As companies scour breezy hilltops for turbine locations, there have been complaints from some areas that local officials who own land they've leased to the companies have been self-dealing by passing favorable zoning rules or ignoring opponents.

"We have gotten dozens of complaints from all across the state regarding these issues," Cuomo said. While such investigations, focused mostly on Franklin, Steuben and Wyoming counties, won't be halted by the guidelines, officials said they should help prevent problems.

There's also a developing land rush in the southern Albany County hill towns of Berne and Knox , where several wind companies hope to construct turbines. Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier said he's fielded complaints from some residents who say that wind companies have made threats, saying they would get construction rights through eminent domain if property owners didn't voluntarily allow construction of turbines on their land.


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