AN ILL WIND: MY INVESTIGATION INTO WIND DEVELOPERS AND THE EMPTY PROMISES OF WIND POWER

by Albert Lanier

In October 2008, my article “Variable Wind Trade” was published in the then Alternative weekly newspaper Honolulu Weekly.

In my piece, I investigated a firm of wind developers called First Wind. At the time was based in Newton, Massachusetts, First Wind was looking to build a 140 turbine wind farm on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai.

The company already had a wind facility called Kaheawa Wind on the island of Maui. The 20 Turbine $65 million farm was one of a few that First Wind owned and operated at the time including Mars Hill in Maine (reportedly costing $94 million and consisting of 28 turbines) and Steel Winds I (435 million, 8 turbines) in Lackawanna, NY.

However about half of the piece dealt with the village and town of Cohocton, located in upstate New York.

The reason was that Cohocton, a town at the time that contained no more than 2,600 residents was home to a new $265 million 50 turbine farm called Cohocton I.

Another reason was that First Wind was under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office.

A July 15, 2008 Press Release from the NY AG’s office which was then headed by Andrew Cuomo (now Governor of New York) noted that First Wind and the Connecticut based firm based firm called Noble Environmental Power had been served with subpoenas.

The AG’s investigation looked into “allegations of improper dealings with public officials and anti-competitive practices” according to the PR announcement.

This official AG office investigation was partly spurred by pressure from citizen groups opposing wind farms and wind power companies such as Cohocton Wind Watch (CWW).

As part of my investigation for Honolulu Weekly, I spoke to and interviewed Judy Hall who was a member of CWW.

The group had fought tooth and nail to stop Cohocton I from being built for at least 3 years but no avail.

In my article, Hall told me in 2008 that “First Wind’s tactics are anything but open, honest, above board and transparent.”

I wrote that “CWW has accused First Wind officials of using money to influence permitting and approval of the project not only in Cohocton but in other towns in New York.”

Hall described to me at the time of the basic tactics of wind power developers “This is what happens all over the country: They sneak into town, buy up huge parcels of land.”

“They tell you all these grandiose things” she told me “ people in our town still think they are going to have” such things as “free electricity and no taxes and none of that is true.”

A May 5, 2008 letter from CWW to John Tunney, the then Steuben Country District Attorney and found at the time on the group’s web site noted the CWW wanted “a criminal investigation and grand jury.”

“Several residents and property owners of Steuben Country have information and evidence of suspected criminal conduct” noted the letter.

The letter outlined 4 charges: Making False Claims and Filing False Instruments, Bribery of Public Officials, Larceny and Fraud.

While an investigation was eventually conducted by the AG’s Office, it is interesting to note some of the aspects of changes made in this letter about Wind Developers like First Wind:

I. False Claims and False Instruments

“From beginning to end the entire process for approving and permitting industrial wind developers have knowingly provided and submitted false statements and false instruments.”

“There is compelling and incontrovertible evidence that the developers and their associates have completely disrupted these processes” notes the letter.

This includes bid proposals that would allow proposals to get millions through renewable energy certificates as well as state and federal taxes.

II. Bribery of Public Officials

“There is a clear and persistent pattern on the part of developers to improperly influence public officials through a number of of schemes including cash bribes, lucrative lease terms, bogus real estate transactions, purchase of personal property and contingent real estate purchase offers”

III. Larceny

“In a great many situations, developers seeking to obtain leases for wind turbine sites or easements for access roads and transmission lines have relied on lies and deceptions to convince landowners to sign away their rights. These falsehoods are felonies under Penal Law Article 155 and other statues” cites the letter.

IV. Fraud

The final charge made by CWW in their letter contends that “developers have committed fraud of inducement by their suspect business practices and fraud in law by their substitution of LLC company names in their filings.”

“Scores of presentations made by consultants employed by town boards and paid by developers were based upon intentional deceptions.”

This letter by CWW to the Steuben County Attorney CCd to then Governor David Patterson, Ag Andrew Cuomo, New York State Senator George H Winner and NY Assemblyman James Bacelles.

In my investigation of First Wind and wind developer in my article “Variable Wind Trade” , I found out that:

First Wind filed an S-1 document with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 31st. You will note that the NY AG began their investigation on July 15. Thus they opted to do an initial public offering seeking $450 million. This made sense since the company hadlost $134 million. The IPO was managed by Goldman Sachs, J P Morgan and Credit Suisse.

Wind developers went after Renewable Energy Certificates and tax credits sought PILOT or Payment of Lieu of Taxes Agreement that allowed to make Lump Sum payments instead of paying local taxes.

Anti -wind power groups began to be formed in towns in New York in elsewhere in opposition to wind developers and their proposed projects.

After my Honolulu Weekly article had been released in late October of 2008, the New York AG’s office- after investigating First Wind and a number of wind farms-established a Wind Industry Ethics Code.

According to the announcement by the AG’s Office, the code included provisions that barred developers from hiring municipal or town government and board employees and giving financial compensation or gifts more than $10 and provide leases and easement documents to the country clerk.

In 2009, I published another article called “Blowin in the Wind” which looked into a planned wind farm on the Island of Lanai. It was not a direct follow up to “Variable Wind Trade” but it was another look at wind power this time set completely in the state of Hawaii.

Since then, Andrew Cuomo has become Governor and during the initial stages Corona Virus crisis wound up a national media star of sorts. Ironically, Cuomo who investigated Wind Power developers years ago as Attorney General wound up signing an order that took power away from towns, villages and local governments in NY to deal with Wind Power farms and developers in NY.

I also wound up talking about Wind Power again after years of working on other stories and pieces and eventually retiring from journalism in 2017. The controversial documentary PLANET OF THE HUMANS which became a You Tube sensation this year noted that wind power was not a reliable or feasible form of power, an assessment I made in 2009 and 2010 when I was guest on a number of talk shows and podcasts including WLEA Radio’s The Newsmaker show in Hornell, New York and The Corbett Report based in Japan to discuss my Honolulu Weekly investigation and reporting.

In the meantime, towns in New York and across the country deal with what is known as Big Wind as local anti-wind groups and concern citizens show their opposition to the wind farm developers.

Journalist Albert Lanier worked as a freelancer for 22 years. He served as a contributing writer to Honolulu Weekly, Pacific Business News, Hawaii Magazine, Asianweek, Edible Hawaiian Islands and Puget Sound Business Journal among many other publications.

Lanier also wrote online articles Modern Luxury Hawaii’s web site and the film site Aint It Cool News

He now serves as an analyst and guest on podcasts and talk shows and writes a blog for Medium.com on current events and media issues.

Albert Lanier can be reached at Twitter (@criticinc) and Facebook.