Developers of a $900 million upstate power plant at the center of a federal probe into allegations of improper lobbying and conflicts of interest sought and received important state approvals to fast-track the plant, which was submitted for inclusion in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Energy Highway plan.
Construction of the proposed 650-megawatt plant, called the CPV Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda, Orange County, has already begun, but progress could soon grind to a halt.
Cuomo’s office cut off all communications with the developer, Competitive Power Ventures of Silver Spring, Maryland, as of April 29, and a long-time Cuomo former aide, Todd Howe, whose firm, Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, and its WOH Government Solutions arm have been lobbying for CPV since 2008. Calls to the firm weren’t returned.
Last week, Alphonso David, counsel to Cuomo who has also been investigating the matter, sent letters to the heads of the state Public Service Commission, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York Power Authority ordering they “immediately suspend or discontinue all communications with CPV or CPV Valley.”
The order specifically ends any activities in support of regulatory approvals, regulatory proceedings and any other discussions with CPV, including lobbying.
Thomas Rumsey, a spokesman for Competitive Power Ventures, would only confirm the company “has been contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to provide information related to past engagements with a small number of consultants. We are complying with these requests.”
While most approvals are already in place, several critical ones are not.
Steven Gosset, a spokesman for NYPA, said the agency had not granted final approval for a vital interconnection for the plant and will not grant a long-term contract to buy the plant’s power.
“There are significant open issues between the Power Authority and CPV that prevent the plant from becoming operational,” he said in response to Newsday questions. “Any prior approvals are incomplete and do not authorize clearance for the operation and function of the plant.”
Gosset noted other outstanding technical and engineering issues and said, “NYPA has no plans to enter into a power purchase agreement to buy electricity from the CPV Valley Energy Center.”
But other state agencies have already provided needed permits and approvals.
In filings with the state Public Service Commission, CPV Valley sought and received a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” that provided a “lightened regulatory” scrutiny of the plant. In granting the request in May 2014, the PSC said the project “would further various objectives identified in the most recent final State Energy Plan,” including “assuring a reliable energy system and “improving the state’s energy independence.” A PSC spokesman said the agency has not been contacted as part of the probe.
The project also received five separate approvals from the state DEC over the past five years: a Title IV Acid Rain permit, an Article 15 stream disturbance permit, a Freshwater Wetlands Permit, a Water Quality Certification and a general State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for storm water during construction, among others.
Local opponents of the plant, who argued it wasn’t needed, was too close to homes and wasn’t “renewable,” say they have been surprised by the steady pace of approvals and have raised questions.
“If these approvals were unlawfully obtained . . . then everything should be suspended at least during the investigation to prevent harm,” said Pramilla Malik, chair and founder of Protect Orange County, a long-time and vocal opponent of the plant.
State records indicate hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on lobbying and campaign contributions.
Between July 2008 and January 2016, CPV and its CPV Valley LLC subsidiary paid Whiteman Osterman & Hanna more than $137,000 in lobbying and consulting fees, according to state lobbying records.
CPV Valley and several related companies have contributed $82,800 to Cuomo’s campaign between December 2009 and September 2015. The largest, for $25,000, came in September 2010.
The company’s CPV Valley subsidiary contributed $50,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee in May 2013.
In all, CPV and its subsidiaries have given $152,540 to campaigns and political action committees across the state since 2007.
One local advocate for the power plant was state Sen. John Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope), whose son, Scott Bonacic, an attorney based in Orange County, helped prepare a draft environmental impact statement for the plant, among other work, according to filed documents. Conor Gillis, a spokesman for the senator, referred calls to his son’s law firm, which were not returned.
As is typical when power plants are sited in a community, CPV Valley said it would pay more than $40 million over 20 years in tax and payments in lieu of taxes to Wawayanda Town and the Minisink School District. Other direct contributions to the region brought the total package to $52 million.