Wind Power Proponents Advance “Unlawful” Scheme at Taxpayer Expense, AG Complaint Says

Nevermind the results of a feasibility study that show “significant risks” are attached to a proposed wind power project. For that matter, why not ignore public input and the legislative arena altogether?

According to concerned residents, this appears to be the attitude of top officials within the East Bay Energy Consortium (EBEC), the Bristol Township, and the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC). They are all named in a complaint filed with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin built around “fraud and misrepresentation” allegations.

In 2009, nine municipalities entered into a “memorandum of agreement” to obtain funding for a wind power feasibility study. The grant applications for the project were done in partnership with the EBEC and the Rhode Island Renewable Energy Fund (RIREF). The agreement made it clear that any grant money would be limited to the feasibility study. However, a “subsequent grant application” to RIREF demonstrated that the EBEC planned to construct and operate the wind power facility itself, according to the complaint.

Benjamin C. Riggs, a retired manufacturing executive residing in Newport, is responsible for filing the complaint. He told the Ocean State Current in an interview that the attorney general’s office has agreed to investigate the matter and has followed up with him seeking clarification on alleged legal infractions.

Since the EBEC is not a legal entity, it should not be permitted to seek taxpayer funding, Riggs has argued.  Yet, it is evident that the EBEC operated beyond legal parameters outlined in the memorandum to secure funding for a project that lacked legislative approval, the complaint says. Moreover, the EBEC also secured the services of a lobbyist and an attorney in an effort to pass legislation that would provide it with the power and authority of a “quasi-governmental agency,” Riggs explained.

In the complaint, Riggs calls on the attorney general to investigate whether or not the key players in the EBEC, Bristol Township, and the director of the Rhode Island EDC “engaged in fraud and misrepresentation in connection with the funding and expenditures associated with EBEC that approximate $435,000 to date.” Furthermore, the complaint asks “whether the same participants engaged in an unlawful scheme designed to surreptitiously tax all residents of the State of Rhode Island without their consent for excess utility costs, the profits from which would then be used to the exclusive revenue benefit of EBEC members.”

The relationship between the EBEC and Bristol Township was particularly problematic, according to the complaint.

“And because EBEC was not a legal entity and could not open a bank account, and because the EDC grant was applied for by the Town of Bristol, Bristol became the ‘banker’ for EBEC, with funds being disbursed at the sole direction of the EBEC, not the Town, which was the entity that applied for and received the grant money.”

The feasibility study, which was released in October 2010, identified certain risks with the project, according to the complaint. A separate wind tower test that began on Aug. 18, 2011also came back with “unfavorable results” that were not disclosed to the public at the time.

“There are no environmental benefits here,” Riggs laments. “The only thing green about this scheme is money that would go to certain government officials and to the East Bay Consortium.”

“The concealment was reaffirmed at the Bristol Town Council meeting of Aug. 8, 2012,” the complaint says. “EBEC also made a habit of not giving proper meeting notices and not sharing documents with the public or even its members.”

During the August 8, 2012, meeting, EBEC Vice Chairman Andrew Shapiro acknowledged “that EBEC had departed from its members’ mandate, and the legality of this departure so concerned legal counsel at the time that they withdrew their representation,” the complaint says. Riggs also singles out Bristol Town Administrator Diane Mederos for withholding the wind tower test results from public scrutiny at the same meeting.

The relevant portion of the public meeting is available here online, about 22 minutes into the video.

The Ocean State Current contacted several of the leading figures named in the complaint, including Diane Williamson in Bristol Township and Jeanne Napolitano from the Newport City Council, inviting each of them to comment, but did not receive a response. The Current also contacted Melissa Chambers, the spokesperson for the the Rhode Island EDC, but did not receive a response.

The legislation advanced on behalf of EBEC has been tabled until the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

For the Current’s coverage of the EBEC during the 2012 legislative session see:

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