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First wind encounters trouble in New York

Massachusetts-based First Wind, formerly known as UPC Wind, is the subject of allegations of wrongdoing in New York, along with a Connecticut-based Noble Environmental Power LLC, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office.

First Wind is the firm behind the wind farm proposal in Sheffield.

N.Y. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo alleges there have been improper dealings with public officials as well as anti-competitive practices.

Subpoenas were served on First Wind, based in Newton, Mass., and the Essex, Conn.-based Noble Environmental Power, according to the AG’s office in New York. Complaints from citizens, groups and public officials in eight New York counties led to the investigation, the statement said.

“The use of wind power, like all renewable energy sources, should be encouraged to help clean our air and our reliance on fossil fuels,” Cuomo said. “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.”

The AG’s subpoenas of the two companies is seeking documents connected with any benefits given any individual or entity in connection with wind farm activity; agreements, easements or contracts regarding placement of wind turbines; agreements between wind companies which may indicate anti-competitive practices; and all documents pertaining to any payments or benefits received from local, state or federal agencies, the AG’s statement says.

John Lamontagne, First Wind’s director of communications, said in a brief e-mail response Wednesday to questions about the New York allegations, “We have received the New York attorney general’s subpoena and we are reviewing it.

“We intend to fully cooperate with his office’s review,” Lamontagne said of the probe into First Wind’s practices in New York. “Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can tell you in terms of responding to the New York attorney general’s statement,” he said.

In Vermont, people saw the New York subpoena story on the evening television news. News of the New York probe was in the hands of watchdogs in the Northeast Kingdom who are fighting the arrival of a wind farm in the area.

JoAnn Stefanski of Barton on Wednesday was eager to share word of the New York probe.

“This is one of the reasons we in Barton are fighting so hard to exclude commercial wind from our ridge lines,” she said in an e-mail.

“Until we find out what their impact will have on Sheffield and know that UPC (now First Wind) is a reputable company, we need to protect ourselves by closing the door to such development,” Stefanski said. “It can always be opened, but once they are here, it cannot be closed.”

Paul Brouha of Sheffield, one of the people who formed Ridge Protectors, which is fighting the state’s approval of First Wind, said, “I guess we need to wait and see what he finds out. I guess that’s about what I’d say. We’ve got our own feelings about how we’ve been dealt with, and I guess ours is just anecdotes and it’ll be nice to have somebody that has the resources to assess just how their practices measure up. We will be interested, yes.”

The Sheffield wind project was approved by Vermont Public Service Board in August 2007. The project calls for 16 turbines which will be 430 feet to the tip of the blade, Brouha said.

The state’s approval is being challenged in a suit now being considered by the Vermont Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case in Montpelier in May.

First Wind has three wind farms in operation and 48 others in development across the country, including the one in Sheffield, its Web site reads.

The company was founded in 2002.

Amy Ash Nixon
Staff Writer

The Caledonian-Record

17 July 2008