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NY energy czar to recuse himself from LI wind farm meetings

Richard Kauffman, seen here on Oct. 3, 2013,

Richard Kauffman, seen here on Oct. 3, 2013, is the state chairman of energy and finance. Kauffman has an investment in a Goldman Sachs subsidiary that owns a large stake in Danish company Dong Energy. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

New York’s chairman of energy and finance will exclude himself from meetings with the world’s largest offshore wind-energy developer about a wind farm off Long Island because of an investment he has in a Goldman Sachs subsidiary that owns a large stake in the company.

As the state leads the wind farm plan, Richard Kauffman said he would recuse himself from future dealings with a Danish company, Dong Energy, after Newsday inquired about the investment in June. Kauffman, dubbed the state’s first energy czar, oversees and manages New York State’s “entire energy portfolio,” including the Long Island Power Authority, the state Department of Public Service and the New York Power Authority.

Kauffman also is chairman of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which last month announced it will take over as the lead agency to pursue lease rights for an 81,000-acre offshore wind farm 19 miles from Long Beach. LIPA initiated the project in 2008 and formed a partnership with Con Edison and the New York Power Authority to pursue lease rights, a task NYSERDA has overtaken.

Dong Energy has already acquired federal water-lease rights off the coasts of New Jersey and Massachusetts and has expressed interest in the New York project.

Kauffman has as much as $500,000 invested in a partnership in Danish Energy Investors, a Cayman Islands-based Goldman Sachs subsidiary that owns 13.39 percent of Dong Energy, according to a Dong spokesman, state records and federal filings.

In a June statement provided after Newsday inquired about Kauffman’s investment, NYSERDA said: “Once the state’s offshore wind strategy was made clear earlier this month, Richard Kauffman proactively and formally recused himself from any future Dong meetings and decisions.”

“The fact that he didn’t recuse himself before now and will going forward, I think is a big problem and reflects poorly on his judgment,” said attorney David Grandeau, a former executive director of the New York State Lobby Commission, a state lobbying watchdog.

Mark Davies, a former executive director of the New York State Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics and former deputy counsel to the New York State Commission on Government Integrity, said, “As a general rule, one would have to recuse” in matters similar to Kauffman’s.

Further, he said, an official “should receive no compensation from any firm in regard to any matter the company has regarding one’s government agency or possibly involving the government as a whole. But sometimes ethics rules outright prohibit the interest, regardless of recusal.”

Kauffman, who joined Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration in January 2013, previously was chairman of Goldman Sachs Global Financing Group. He divested his direct Goldman Sachs shares when he took a position in the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010. His wife, Ellen Jewett, still holds shares, and Kauffman’s investments are managed by Goldman Sachs, NYSERDA said.

Kauffman and NYSERDA president and chief executive John Rhodes met with Dong Energy officials on Jan. 22, 2015, according to the state’s meeting disclosure website, Project Sunlight. They also met with Dong Energy partner RES Americas on Feb. 17.

Dong Energy spokesman Tom Lehn-Christiansen said Danish Energy Investors has a seat on Dong Energy’s board, but “they are not involved in our day-to-day business.” Danish Energy Investors, he said, is “owned by Goldman Sachs, so please direct those questions to Goldman Sachs.” Goldman declined to comment.

NYSERDA said Kauffman’s Dong Energy investment “was made available and solicited to financially suitable private-wealth clients of Goldman Sachs, along with Uber and other emerging industry and growth opportunities.” NYSERDA stressed that “clients like [Kauffman] were purchasing an investment in Dong, not Goldman Sachs” through the stake, though Danish Energy is described in securities filings as a Goldman subsidiary.

In a statement, Dong Energy’s general manager for the United States, Thomas Brostrom, expressed an interest in the offshore wind project NYSERDA will lead.

“Given the site’s proximity to [electric] load centers in New York and Long Island, it has the potential to be a very desirable location,” he said.

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