ALBANY — After claims of bribery and intimidation of local officials, the state’s wind industry now has an updated code of conduct, and violators could face fines.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office will announce Thursday a revised code of conduct for the wind energy industry. The code will deter improper relationships between government officials and wind development companies, according to Schneiderman. That could include benefits given to public officials and improperly sought land-use agreements.
"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,” Schneiderman said in a statement provided to POLITICO New York. “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.”
New York is poised to see significant wind power growth in the next two decades, as the industry seeks to capitalize on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate that New York receive half of its electrical grid power from renewable energy by 2030. That’s about double the current amount of clean energy on the grid. To achieve that aggressive goal, much of the growth will have to come from large-scale renewable projects, such as wind farms located on- and offshore.
A number of upstate communities are actively fighting proposed wind turbines, which can be 600 feet high.
Cuomo, when he was state attorney general, first established the wind industry codes of conduct in 2008 to address ethically-questionable behavior, after an investigation showed wind developers bribed or intimidated local officials into approving projects. As part of those reforms, local governmental authority over the wind farm development siting process was greatly weakened. However, local officials may still be able to approve subdivision of land, tax assessments, water consumption and other aspects of the process.
In 2013, Schneiderman’s office singled out a municipal employee in Cortland County for having a financial interest in land where a wind project was to be sited. The new code of conduct aims to prevent similar potential conflicts of industry as more wind is installed upstate.
The new code of conduct would ban wind companies from hiring municipal employees or their relatives and gifts of more than $15 could not be offered. Wind companies will not be allowed to solicit confidential information from town officials and must identify public officials or relatives who have a financial stake in wind farm development. Wind easements and leases must be written down and filed with the county clerk.
Last month, former state attorney general Dennis Vacco sent Schneiderman a letter claiming that the Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy was violating the code of conduct. Vacco, who is representing the town of Somerset where some of the turbines will be located, asserted that Apex has been “astroturfing” meetings, or bringing in paid employees to act as local residents supportive of the project or to flood state offices with letters of support. According to a letter Vacco wrote to Schneiderman, the town is worried that Apex is intentionally misrepresenting and inflating support for the project. Apex has denied the accusations.
Apex Clean Energy, which has a proposed project in Niagara County, is among the first wind companies to have signed the code. Others include Galloo Island Wind in Jefferson County and Stockbridge Wind in Madison County.