Cuomo investigating alleged ‘dirty tricks’ in in local windmill projects; Two WNY companies under investigation
Two wind power companies developing windmill projects in Western New York – including Steel Winds on the old Bethlehem Steel plant site in Lackawanna – are under investigation by State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo for possible improper dealings with local government officials.
Subpoenas were served Tuesday on First Wind, the lead developer of Steel Winds, which is also developing larger, rural “wind farms” in Steuben, Chautauqua, Genesee and Wyoming counties; and Noble Environmental Power, with three working wind farms and five in development in Allegany, Chautauqua, Clinton, Franklin and Wyoming counties.
“The use of wind power, like all renewable energy sources, should be encouraged to help clean our air and end our reliance on fossil fuels,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“However, public integrity remains a top priority of my office and if dirty tricks are used to facilitate even clean-energy projects, my office will put a stop to it,” he said.
Cuomo’s office has received numerous complaints from private citizens and public officials in eight counties – including Erie – alleging “improper relations between the companies and local officials” and other questionable practices.
The allegations include accusations that the companies improperly sought or obtained land-use agreements with public officials and the officials’ relatives and acquaintances; gave bribes and other improper benefits to public officials; and entered into anti-competitive agreements or practices.
The subpoenas issued Tuesday were for all documents related to any benefits conferred to an individual or entity in connection with wind farms; all agreements, easements or contracts regarding placement of wind turbines; agreements between wind companies that could indicate anti-competitive practices; and anything pertaining to payments or benefits received from local, state or federal agencies, according to Cuomo’s office.
A Cuomo spokesman added that the two subpoenas are just the beginning. “This is an initial part of an ongoing investigation,” said spokesman John Milgrim.
John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, acknowledged the Newton, Mass.-based company had received the subpoena and said: “We intend to fully cooperate with [Cuomo’s] office.”
Noble Environmental, of Essex, Conn., issued a statement: “The company is in the process of reviewing the subpoena and will cooperate fully with the attorney general. We are confident the attorney general’s inquiry will find that Noble’s actions have been legal and proper and we look forward to his review.”
Lackawanna Mayor Norman Polanski said neither Steel Winds, made up of eight turbines each taller than Buffalo City Hall, nor the City of Lackawanna, is affected by the probe.
“We’re not involved at all,” Polanski said.
He pointed out that the city entered into an agreement over Steel Winds with the project’s other developer, BQ Energy, and that BQ Energy was not under investigation.
“We had no dealings with First Wind,” he said.
Polanski added that he did not receive kickbacks from any of the developers. “I got a model windmill and a shirt,” he said, and nothing else.
Last week, the Lackawanna Planning Board approved site plans for the second phase of Steel Winds, which would add 13 turbines to the current project.
Wind farm opponents were thrilled by the news that Cuomo’s office is looking into the two developers.
“We’re ecstatic that [Cuomo] is finally listening to what New York State taxpayers have been saying: that this is nothing but a total rip-off of the taxpayer,” said Judy Hall, a member of Cohocton Wind Watch, which is fighting a First Wind wind farm in its community.
Hall complained that communities aren’t made aware of proposed wind farms until they’re already approved and accused local leaders and developers of striking under-the-table deals to get the projects approved.
“We’re keeping our ear to the ground, and we’ll continue to provide information,” Hall vowed. “We just feel energized today.”
By Maki Becker and Tom Precious
16 July 2008
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