Noble wind-energy firm under investigation; Relationship between companies and public officials examined
Noble Environmental Power LLC and a second wind-energy firm are under investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office for “improper dealings with public officials and anti-competitive practices.”
“We’ve had a number of complaints from counties all over the state, from Franklin all the way over to Erie,” said John Milgrim, spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne was among “DAs from eight counties, public officials and citizens” who bombarded Albany with complaints about Noble and Massachusetts-based First Wind, formerly known as UPC Wind, he said.
Subpoenas were served on both companies Tuesday, seeking an assortment of documents pertaining to agreements and easements obtained from property owners and public officials.
Noble, which is based in Chester, Conn., has three wind farms in operation and five in development in Clinton, Franklin, Allegany, Chautauqua and Wyoming counties.
First Wind has three operational wind farms and 48 others under development across the United States and in Steuben, Chautauqua, Genesee and Wyoming counties.
In a statement released late Tuesday, Noble said it has received the subpoena and that “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,” the statement concludes.
Cuomo’s subpoenas seek:
All documentation about the benefits individuals or entities received in connection with wind-farm activity; all easements, agreements and contracts individuals were awarded as far as turbine placement; and agreements that could be viewed as anti-competitive practices, all paperwork concerning payments or benefits received by local, state or federal agencies.
The Attorney General will determine:
Whether companies developing wind farms improperly sought or obtained land-use agreements with citizens and public officials.
Whether improper benefits were given to public officials to influence their actions.
Whether the wind-farm companies entered into anti-competitive agreements or practices.
“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,” said Cuomo in a news release.
“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.
DA Champagne said he is relieved Cuomo is taking the lead in investigating the claims because such a far-reaching probe would have overwhelmed his office and staff.
“The Attorney General is clearly a man of his word when he said his office would be involved,” he said, adding that he does not know if any local individuals could be charged with a crime.
“I’ve met with a number of elected officials who are upset that they have been put in this position to make decisions about projects like this,” Champagne said.
“There is no state policy or guidelines for them to follow,” he said. “We’ve got state codes for electrical outlets and where they can be placed, but there is nothing for determining where a 300-foot tower should be.”
His local investigation began earlier this year as a Town of Burke official tried to quash a grand-jury subpoena seeking information about his option to lease land to Noble.
Town Council member David Vincent was eventually ordered by Acting Supreme Court Justice David Demerest to turn over all paperwork, contracts, receipts, leases, purchase agreements, options or communications he had received concerning Noble Chateaugay Windpark, Noble Energy, Jericho Rise Windpark and Burke Wind Power.
Vincent, in documents filed with the County Clerk’s office, agreed to lease land to Noble.
At the same time, the DA asked the County Legislature to create an ethics board to give municipalities a forum where town officials could go for an opinion on whether a conflict of interest exists when such an issue is before them.
Legislators said they did not want to be in the business of telling other entities what to do and tabled the idea in May, saying they wanted more information from Champagne before making a final determination.
In Clinton County, allegations had arisen in October 2005 about possible conflicts of interest involving former Ellenburg Town Council member Lawrence Carter and members of the Zoning Board including Chairman Francis LaClair.
By Denise A. Raymo
15 July 2008
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