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Whistle blown on wind power


Corruption allegations swirl around push for wind power

At first there were sporadic complaints last year to the office of Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne. Then the outcry grew. North Country residents alleged that undue influence was being put on local leaders to approve multimillion-dollar wind farms, with turbines 200 feet or taller, in their rural communities near the Canadian border.

To Champagne's dismay, he thought some of the public officials approving the contracts were also leasing their own land to the wind developers. Champagne found as many as seven town board members in Franklin County who had apparent conflicts of interest.

"These elected officials (who had lease agreements with wind developers) were the same ones who would have to pass the appropriate local legislation to allow them to be constructed," Champagne said last week at his office in Malone. "And they would do it."

As New York seeks to produce 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2013, the push by developers and the state to expand wind farms is creating unintended results: bitterly divided communities, accusations of corruption and complaints of poor state oversight for a new type of energy.

Champagne calls it New York's version of a "gold rush" and said it could be the next Enron scandal in the making. He sent out a memo to every town board in his county, urging them to adopt stronger ethical codes.

Some critics question whether the wind farms will produce adequate electricity or instead are being built to tap into public subsidies and sell wind-energy credits on the open market to offset pollution from other industries.

Michael Lawrence, supervisor of Brandon in Franklin County, said the battle over whether to have a wind farm "has created devastation in the community."

Champagne has turned over his cardboard box of documents on cases across the state to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. Last week, Cuomo issued subpoenas to two of New York's major wind-farm developers, saying that "if dirty tricks are used to facilitate even clean-energy projects, my office will put a stop to it."

Click here to read the whole front page story by Joseph Spector, Albany bureau, published in today's Democrat & Chronicle.

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