Citing “Secrecy,” NY Counties Demand Offshore Wind Details

Put off by the NY Power Authority's proposal process, upstate governments are increasingly opposing the Great Lakes Offshore Wind project.

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The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is reviewing five proposals to build up to 166 utility-scale wind turbines along the shores of Lake Ontario and/or Lake Erie.

The project is significant, vying as it does with two wind projects in the works for Lake Michigan (off Evanston, Ill.) and Lake Erie (off Cleveland, Ohio) to become America’s first freshwater wind project.

But NYPA isn’t naming the candidate companies or saying where the 120- to 500-megawatt turbines might go. And that’s not sitting well with locals, who accuse the state agency of undue, possibly unlawful “secretiveness” about bids and locations for the turbines, which they see as a potential threat to their lakes-based economic interests, from fishing and boating to tourism.

As a result, county governments are passing resolutions against the Great Lakes Offshore Wind project (GLOW). In response, the NYPA may be backing off from locating the turbines near communities that have voiced opposition.

Their skepticism is also a response to the fact that none of the proposals have been made public.

“If [offshore wind] is a good idea, they’re not making it appear that way,” said Ted Jerrett, clerk of the Oswego Legislature.

 “They are driving county against county, residents against the state,” complained Clyde Burmaster, vice chairman of the Niagara County legislature, whose Lake Ontario shoreline has been identified as a possible location for the windmills. “This is no way to do business.”

In November, the Niagara County Legislature will consider a resolution against GLOW, the fifth such action by a shoreline county this year. Oswego, Wayne, Jefferson and Chautauqua counties, along with the towns of Greece and Webster, have passed such resolutions. More are in the works.

Standard Procedure, Says NYPA

The NYPA, a state public power organization, denies it’s being secretive or that its process for evaluating the GLOW bids is somehow unusual.

NYPA put out a request for proposal (RFP) in December 2009. It received five by June 2010. Since then, the agency has been reviewing the RFPs and will announce the chosen GLOW developer in early 2011. After a two-year review process that will include an environmental review and public feedback, the turbines are expected to be on line by 2015.

“This is the way that the power authority does its request-for-proposals projects,” NYPA spokeswoman Connie M. Cullen told SolveClimate News. “This is not unique.”

NYPA president and CEO Richard Kessel explained why in an Oct. 9 op-ed in the Democrat and Chronicle, a Rochester, NY, newspaper that has extensively covered the issue.

“Right now, there is no identified project, so there are no details,” Kessel said. “On the subject of proposals, the disclosure of bid information before one or more is identified for possible construction jeopardizes NYPA’s efforts to secure the best project price and compromises a fair review for all bidders.”

FOIA Request Denied

The venue he chose for his public statement apparently doesn’t agree. Kessel’s op-ed came three months after the NYPA denied a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request from the Democrat and Chronicle for information about the proposals. The paper was joined in the FOIL request by state Sen. George Maziarz (R-Newfane), who chairs the state senate’s energy and telecommunications committee.

“The Power Authority is sitting on this information,” Maziarz told SolveClimate News. “It’s contemptuous.”

Maziarz’s request may have legal footing, said another state official, Robert Freeman, who directs New York’s Committee on Open Government, which advises the public on how to access information from government agencies. Under state law, Freedman explained, New York state agencies may withhold information insofar as disclosure “would impair present or imminent contract laws.”

But, Freeman said: “I don’t see how that could happen [with the turbines project]. I don’t see how the government could meet the burden of proof.”

“There is little doubt,” Freeman added, “that the identities of the proposers should be disclosed. How could it be that disclosure of the locations would cause ‘substantial injury to the competitive position’ of whatever the firms might be?”

However, NYPA’s argument for waiting to release information until negotiations are complete may have some merit, says Brandi Colander, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Colander said that of the many fledgling windpower projects across the country, there is “little to no precedent” for the “appropriate time” to disclose details about such projects.

Retreating from Potential Sites

As the local government resolutions continue to roll out, the NYPA seems to be backing away from considering those areas as potential turbine sites.

In March, NYPA’s chairman of the board, Michael Townsend, wrote to Oswego County’s economic development chairman: “I will do everything in my power to ensure that no NYPA power projects are located in any municipality within Oswego County.” (He wrote again to clarify that land-based windfarms, which Oswego is interested in, could be built.)

In April, CEO Kessel wrote to state Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine (D-Watertown), whose district includes three shoreline counties, characterizing Oswego and Jefferson counties’ formal opposition as “premature.”

“I am disappointed that neither legislature waited to hear all the information before making their decision, but I will respect their wishes in the process,” Kessel said.

He added, “We will focus our attention on those communities that see the project as being vital to building the economy and creating new jobs.”

Image: Less Salty via Creative Commons and GNU Free Documentation License 

See Also:

Michigan Inches Forward to Tap Great Lakes’ Vast Wind Power

Ontario Okays Wind Power in the Great Lakes

America’s Offshore Wind Race is On: Can the US Compete with Canada?

Ten States Aim for Offshore Wind Boom in Alliance with Interior Department