October 30, 2008, New York Times: Amid Talk of Hidden Deals, Wind Firms Agree to Code of Conduct

Two of the state’s largest developers of wind power agreed on Thursday to follow a new, stringent code of conduct created by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been investigating the companies over allegations that they bribed or intimidated municipal officials to approve wind projects.

By agreeing to follow the code of conduct, the companies, Noble Environmental Power and First Wind, agreed not to hire or give gifts to town officials responsible for approving wind power projects. The companies also agreed not to compensate the relatives of officials involved in deciding the fate of wind power installations, which have become a major source of income in many upstate communities.

In July, the attorney general’s office began investigating a growing number of complaints from community groups, residents and law enforcement officials in upstate towns where wind farms were either built or being developed. No one has been prosecuted as a result of the investigation.

But Mr. Cuomo expects that the Wind Industry Ethics Code will stem abuses and threats in communities where wind power companies are eager to install turbines. Mr. Cuomo expects other wind power companies to agree to follow the code as well.

“Wind power is an exciting industry for the state that will be a cornerstone of our energy future,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement. “But it is important to make sure that this alternative-energy sector develops in a way that maintains the public’s confidence, and that is what this new code of conduct does.”

Mr. Cuomo’s office also set up a task force to monitor compliance with the new code. The group includes three district attorneys, the executive directors of the New York State Association of Counties and the Association of Towns of the State of New York, and a director from the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Companies caught violating the code of conduct can be fined up to $50,000 for a first offense and up to $100,000 for a second offense. Dozens of companies either have wind farms upstate or are trying to develop them.

The attorney general’s office has received many complaints about board members and other officials in upstate towns who received favors in return for approving the construction of windmills. In some cases, the complaints said, officials owned businesses that were hired by wind power companies. Mr. Cuomo is investigating whether different companies colluded to divide territory and avoid bidding against one another for the same land.

Nine large wind farms housing 451 towers, each with a turbine, are operating in New York, with at least 840 more towers planned for construction. The towers are one of the few economic bright spots in some upstate counties.

The statewide guidelines governing wind companies could become a template for the policing of conflicts of interest in other industries, Mr. Cuomo said. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t pertain to hotel developers, casino developers and road construction companies,” he said.

The attorney general dismissed concerns that the code of conduct would slow investment in wind power. Instead, he said, more projects probably will be approved because many opponents of wind farms have cited conflicts of interest by municipal officials as their reason for trying to block or slow construction.

But Carol E. Murphy, executive director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a trade group of environmental advocates and wind power producers, said opponents simply do not want the windmills in their backyards. “The reason it’s difficult to do business in New York is Nimby-ism and people not wanting to look at windmills,” she said.

While Ms. Murphy said the code of conduct was sensible, she is worried that the new task force will become an additional way for opponents of wind power projects to try to block construction. “The unfortunate thing is it singles wind out with a task force and gives an additional place for Nimbys to go to,” she said.

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