Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced on April 7, 2016, the release of a revised Code of Conduct for the wind energy industry in New York State.
The Code promotes the sustainable growth of the wind industry by increasing transparency and deterring improper relationships between local government officials and wind development companies, such as improperly sought land-use agreements with citizens and public officials, and improper benefits being given to public officials to influence their official actions relating to wind farm development.
According to the A.G., these disclosure requirements deter improper relationships between wind development companies and local government officials, such as improperly sought land-use agreements with citizens and public officials, and improper benefits being given to public officials to influence their official actions relating to wind farm development.
“Public officials throughout New York should encourage the growth of a strong, sustainable wind industry for the public good and not for their own private financial gain,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The revised code of conduct announced today will help ensure greater transparency and limit the potential for corruption and unfair outside influence, thereby fostering the growth of a responsible renewable energy industry throughout our state.”
The original New York State Code of Conduct for Wind Farm Development was signed by many wind companies in 2009 – prior to the enactment of New York State’s comprehensive energy bill known as the “Power NY Act of 2011.” The Power NY Act of 2011 established a centralized process for the siting of electric generating facilities and re-powering projects. This Act included a new version of Article 10 of the Public Service Law and created a multi-agency Siting Board that is charged with streamlining the permitting process for power plants of 25 megawatts (MW) or greater.
Although the State Siting Board removes most local government approval from the wind farm development siting process, there are still certain local action requirements that remain outside of the State Siting Board process and subject to local approval. For example, local approval may be necessary for the subdivision of land, extensions of special improvement or benefit assessment districts, tax assessment or payment in lieu of taxes determinations, consents for the extension of utility franchises to provide station power, private water or consumption of water from a municipal supply, the discharge of sewage or storm water into a municipal wastewater treatment system, the setting an payment of hook-in fees, water rates, sewer rents and similar capital and consumption charges, industrial development agency leases and/or the overt grant of property rights or other privileges. In addition, the regulation of towers used to monitor meteorological conditions is not governed by the Siting Board and permitting, if required, may be under local codes.
The Code of Conduct was revised to address wind farm development projects proceeding through the State Siting process. The Code of Conduct seeks to ensure that wind farm development is done in a transparent manner in which municipal officials and companies are accountable, and wind farm development business practices are established and maintained so as to avoid conflicts, or even the appearance of conflicts, of interest. The new Code of Conduct will assure the public the wind power industry is acting properly and within the law.
The first wind companies to sign the revised Code of Conduct are all subsidiaries of Apex Clean Energy: Lighthouse Wind, LLC, has a proposed wind power project in Somerset (Niagara County) and Yates (Orleans County), Galloo Island Wind, LLC, has a proposed wind power project in Jefferson County and Stockbridge Wind, LLC, has a proposed wind power project in Madison County.
The Attorney General’s Code of Conduct prohibits conflicts of interest between municipal officials and wind companies and establishes specific public disclosure requirements.
The New Code of Conduct:
• Bans wind companies from hiring municipal employees or their relatives, giving gifts of more than $15 during a one-year period, or providing any other form of compensation that is contingent on any action before a municipal agency;
• Prevents wind companies from soliciting, using, or knowingly receiving confidential information acquired by a municipal officer in the course of his or her officials duties;
• Requires wind companies to establish and maintain a public website to disclose the names of all municipal officers or their relatives who have a financial stake in wind farm development;
• Requires wind companies to submit in writing to the municipal clerk for public inspection and to publish in the local newspaper the nature and scope of the municipal officer’s financial interest;
• Mandates that all wind easements and leases be in writing and filed with the County Clerk; and
• Dictates that within ninety days of signing the Code of Conduct, companies must conduct a seminar for employees about identifying and preventing conflicts of interest when working municipal employees.
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