WESTFIELD - State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo announced in October a new Wind Industry Ethics Code that establishes guidelines to facilitate the development of alternative energy in New York while assuring the public the wind power industry is acting properly and within the law.
"The Code calls for new oversight through a multi-agency Task Force, and establishes unprecedented transparency that will deter any improper relationships between wind development companies and local government officials," Cuomo said in a press release.
For Westfield residents who remember the last wind company's practices that attempted to build a wind farm in the town, this code of ethics is very welcome.
"I think Babcock and Brown should absolutely agree to the ethics code," said Claire Quadri at a Westfield Town Board meeting. "Can't the town request that they do so?"
Town Supervisor, Martha Bills, said it is beyond the authority of the town to request that.
"We will need to get more information about it," Bills said. "Our authority is under zoning, under which we have our own, more extensive, code of ethics. It is not clear what our part will be [in Cuomo's proposal]."
Babcock and Brown have neither signed on to the Ethics Code or decided against it.
"Babcock and Brown is a leader in wind energy that strongly supports responsible wind development," said Peter Gross of Babcock and Brown. "We support ethical conduct in connection with development activities and we have received and are currently reviewing the proposed code of conduct."
The first companies to sign the Attorney General's Wind Industry Ethics Code are Essex, Connecticut-based Noble Environmental Power, LLC and Newton, Massachusetts-based First Wind (formerly known as UPC Wind). Both companies currently operate wind farms in New York and have several others in development.
"Wind power is an exciting industry for the state that will be a cornerstone of our energy future. 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," Cuomo said. "I commend Noble and First Wind for taking the lead by adopting this Code, and we fully expect other companies that want to develop wind farms in New York to follow suit."
The Wind Industry Ethics Code is a result of the Attorney General's investigation into, among other things, whether companies developing wind farms improperly sought land-use agreements with citizens and public officials, and whether improper benefits were given to public officials to influence their official actions relating to wind farm development. Both Noble and First Wind fully cooperated in the inquiry and their assistance was instrumental in developing the Code of Conduct that has just been announced.
The Attorney General's Wind Industry Ethics Code prohibits conflicts of interest between municipal officials and wind companies and establishes vast new public disclosure requirements. The Code:
Bans wind companies from hiring municipal employees or their relatives, giving gifts of more than $10 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 Web site 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.
Dictates that within 30 days of signing the Wind Industry Ethics Code, companies must conduct a seminar for employees about identifying and preventing conflicts of interest when working with municipal employees.
The Industrial Wind Action Group, Inc., a group dedicated to assisting communities, municipalities and residents during the wind development process, has been keeping a close eye on the situation of wind companies in Western New York.
"We think Babcock and Brown and all developers working within the State should sign onto the code," said Lisa Linowes, executive director. "There is no good reason why they would not agree to sign on to the Code."
According to Linowes, the Ethics Code unfortunately does not carry much weight, however.
"If a company chooses to sign on it will send a message that they respect the importance of keeping the process open and honest," Linowes said. "At least by signing onto the Ethic Code, the hope is the wind developer will play fair and not use its money to force a specific outcome. Windaction.org will continued to monitor the events in the state, report on violations by wind developers, and assist folks in their communities if they are potentially harmed by the development."
Information on Cuomo's Wind Ethics Code found on the Attorney General's Web site at www.oag.state.ny.us/media_center/2008/oct/oct30a_08.html
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