New York State Investigates Wind Companies for Improper Business and Political Dealings

Published September 1, 2008

New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo (D) has opened an investigation into two companies developing and operating wind farms in the state.

Cuomo, who announced the investigation July 15, said the focus will be on allegations of anti-competitive business practices and improper relationships between the companies and public officials.

Bribery, Unethical Conduct

The state has served subpoenas on company officials at First Wind (formerly known as UPC Wind) and Noble Environmental Power, LLC. The former is headquartered in Massachusetts, the latter in Connecticut.

The subpoenas are part of an investigation into whether companies developing wind farms improperly sought or obtained land-use agreements with citizens and public officials, whether improper benefits (such as bribes, illegal gifts, or unethical contracts) were given to public officials to influence their actions, and whether the companies engaged in anti-competitive agreements or practices.

First Wind has three operational wind farms and 48 others under development across the United States, according to its Web site. It developed the Steel Winds wind farm in New York and has at least five others under development in the state. Noble Environmental Power has three active wind farms and five under development in Allegany, Chautauqua, Clinton, Franklin, and Wyoming counties in New York.

Citizen Complaints

Citizens, environmentalist groups, and consumer advocates have filed numerous complaints with the New York State Attorney General’s Office against the two companies, alleging improper relations between the companies and local officials and other improper practices.

One such citizens’ group is Cohocton Wind Watch (CWW), which issued a statement supporting Cuomo’s investigation.

“Cohocton Wind Watch is gratified with the decision of New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to launch a formal investigation into the business practices of First Wind/UPC Wind and Noble Environmental Power,” spokesman James Hall said in a written statement.

“CWW has compiled comprehensive evidence, volumes of empirical data, and a paper trail of proof that public officials, developers, and their agents and leaseholders have acted collectively to defraud [New York state]. With this AG announcement of an active investigation, claims and allegations of the industrial wind fraud and wrongdoing will finally be scrutinized by the highest level of law enforcement,” Hall added.

“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 press release from his office. “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.”

Other States Take Notice

Cuomo’s announcement of the investigation has had ripple effects in nearby states.

Wind opponents in Vermont are citing the companies’ alleged misconduct as a further reason why the state should reject proposals to locate wind farms in the state. Vermonters have strongly protested placement of wind turbines on mountaintop ridges because they ruin the pristine beauty of the White Mountains and decimate bird and bat populations.

Tom Stacy, president of the Save Western Ohio environmental group, says suspect dealings are also occurring in Ohio.

“In parallel to the New York circumstances, we have three citizens to my knowledge who have filed complaints with the Ohio Ethics Commission against elected officials in Monroe and Jefferson Townships of Logan County, Ohio,” said Stacy.

“We have several officials with wind turbine lease conflicts of interest who have opted not to recuse themselves from voting on related zoning, and one in particular who lied under oath about his knowledge of his brother’s wind lease,” Stacy said.

Eco Concern Invites Corruption

Stacy says the wind industry is an example of businesses using government to pursue personal profit.

“The wind industry plays a slick shell game, deftly swapping claimed motives of emission offsets, energy security, job creation, and contribution to local tax coffers, while supplying no meaningful product and cloaking their true motive–personal wealth creation at public expense. Can you spell Enron?” Stacy said.

Tom Tanton ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute.