Cohocton Wind Watch: Wind ethics code created
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Monday, November 03, 2008

Wind ethics code created

ALBANY — In the wake of numerous complaints over potentially unethical activity, the state attorney general has created a voluntary Wind Industry Ethics Code for wind power developers and municipal officials.

In a Thursday press conference at the state Capitol, Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo called the code an "institutional resolution" to investigations into the activities of two wind developers alleged to have engaged in improper dealings with local officials and anticompetitive practices.

TWO COMPANIES SIGN ON

"This is going to be an ongoing policy issue," Mr. Cuomo said. "We're doing the right thing for these companies and New York. We want to see these companies succeed."

So far, only two wind power companies have agreed to abide by the code — Noble Environmental Power LLC of Essex, Conn., and First Wind of Newton, Mass. In July, Mr. Cuomo launched investigations of both companies after numerous allegations of improper conduct in developing their dealings with municipal governments in Northern and Western New York.

Other developers have yet to sign on.

James H. Madden, project manager for BP Alternative Energy's wind farm at Cape Vincent, said he hadn't seen or heard about the code and BP would have to review it before signing on.

"I would expect that we would be deposed to sign it," he said. "We support standards for the entire industry."

PROVISIONS OUTLINED

Spokesmen for Iberdrola, developer of Maple Ridge and Horse Creek wind farms, Acciona, developer of the St. Lawrence Wind Farm, and Babcock & Brown, the company behind the proposed Galloo Island project, did not return calls for comment by Thursday evening.

Provisions of the Wind Industry Ethics Code include:

■ Wind companies may not hire municipal employees or their relatives, nor give gifts of more than $10 during a one-year period, or give any other compensation contingent upon action before a municipal government or board.

■ Wind companies may not solicit or use confidential information from municipal officials.

■ Wind companies must maintain a Web site to disclose the names of municipal officials and family members who have a financial stake in wind projects. Such information also must be submitted to local municipal clerks and published in local newspapers.

■ Wind easements and leases must be filed with the appropriate county clerk.

■ Wind companies must train their employees to identify and prevent conflicts of interest with local officials.

The code will be enforced by a task force. A first violation is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000; subsequent violations draw fines of up to $100,000. Among the seven-member task force are Derek P. Champagne, Franklin County district attorney, and Gerald Stout, district attorney for Wyoming County.

"Over the past year, Franklin County has been an example of extremes," Mr. Champagne said, noting the conflicts and controversy surrounding the wind projects there. "I think this will ensure that energy isn't obtained through back-door dealings."

Mr. Stout noted that the rapid pace of growth in energy technology makes it tough for local officials to keep up.

"This is an educational process for local officials so they can avoid the appearance of conflicts and actual conflicts," he said. "From now on there will be transparency in regulations involving wind farms in Wyoming County."

Both county district attorneys said they have turned their wind power investigations over to Mr. Cuomo's office where, a spokesman said, they are continuing.

Proposed north country wind farms have emerged as an issue in the campaign for the 48th state Senate District seat. Republican candidate David A. Renzi of Watertown, in a statement issued late Thursday, called on his opponent, Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, to release details of a contract with Acciona.

"We need to hold our government leaders to a higher ethical standard," Mr. Renzi said. "That's why I am urging my opponent today, in the spirit of this new code of ethics, to release the full details of his secret wind energy contracts, so that voters and local residents can judge for themselves if he has acted appropriately and in compliance with the law in his dealings with these companies."

A spokesman for Mr. Aubertine's campaign said Mr. Renzi was attempting to deflect attention from alleged miscues on his part.

"Mr. Renzi knows full well that this has nothing to do with Darrel, and he is just trying to distract attention from his problems with the comptroller and attorney general," said Cort M. Ruddy, Mr. Aubertine's campaign coordinator.

Mr. Aubertine said he has always been transparent.

"I support the attorney general in this effort," he said. "I have always been forthright and open about my family's decision to sell our wind development rights in Cape Vincent — as this paper has reported — and I believe municipal government officials should be forthright as well."

Noble is developing nine wind farms in Northern and Western New York. Its north country projects include farms at Bellmont and Chateaugay in Franklin County, and at Altona, Clinton and Ellenburg in Clinton County.

First Wind has several projects in New York in various developmental stages, and the company's Steel Winds I wind farm in Lackawanna already is operational.

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