A view of the construction as of January 2016. (cpvvally.com)
By Scott Waldman 5:08 a.m. | May. 4, 2016
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said a power plant that is at the center of a federal corruption probe still needs more approvals from the state, even though construction crews are now pouring its foundation.
Competitive Power Ventures already is at work on a proposed $1 billion 650-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant in Wawayanda, Orange County. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is looking into ties between the plant and Cuomo administration figures. The governor’s office has now cut off contact with CPV.
Cuomo, speaking to reporters on Monday for the first time since the scandal broke last Friday, tried to downplay the state’s action on CPV’s gas plant. He said permits issued by the state were “conditional,” though the plant began construction months ago.
“The CPV plant has not been approved, so it’s not like the plant is operating,” he told reporters. “There was a conditional early approval, they have to do a final agreement, which has never been done.”
For years, environmental and community groups have raised concerns about the plant, and the administration dismissed all of them, said Pramilla Malick, who runs a group called Protect Orange County that opposes the plant. Some of the numerous questions raised by local citizens over the years include whether trees were improperly cleared, whether the plant encroached upon the habitat of an endangered bat and whether it destroyed wetlands. They have also questioned why the Cuomo administration was pushing forward with a natural gas-fired power plant at a time when it was implementing climate policies, such as a fracking ban, that turned the state away from fossil fuel reliance.
“On multiple levels this project was inconsistent and incoherent with his public policies, which is why we were so bewildered with the approvals this project kept getting,” she said.
The environmental groups will hold a rally in front of Bharara’s Manhattan office on Wednesday to call for a probe into the permitting of the plant.
The plant also had a number of connections with the Cuomo administration.
Over the years, CPV has spent more than $220,000 on lobbying and donations to Cuomo’s campaign or to those of state lawmakers.
The wife of former Cuomo aide Joe Percoco received up to $120,000 from CPV, financial disclosures show. Some of the payments to Lisa Toscano-Percoco, who was a teacher in the New York City school system the year before she was employed by a consultancy firm, Chris Pitts LLC, that did work for CPV. Todd Howe, a lobbyist and longtime Cuomo friend who is also at the center of the investigation, has also done work for CPV.
On Tuesday, CPV spokesman Tom Rumsey said the company was cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s office.
“CPV has been contacted by the US Attorney’s office to provide information related to past engagements with a small number of consultants,” he wrote in a statement. “We are complying with these requests.”
Records show the state PSC signed off on a key final permit for the plant in May 2014, at a time when Percoco briefly left state employment to run Cuomo’s reelection campaign. On Tuesday, a PSC spokesman confirmed the plant did not require any more permitting from that agency. The state allowed the local town board to conduct the required environmental review for the facility.
Cuomo, on Monday, said Percoco told him he was doing consultant work while also running the campaign, but did not specify what it was for. He said he did not ask Percoco if he was still consulting upon his return to state government.
“Joe left state service and went into the private sector,” he said. “He consulted for my campaign. I knew he might be accepting consulting arrangements with other companies.”
The plant has sought a state contract that would guarantee the purchase of power from CPV, but that was not ultimately granted. The Cuomo administration considers CPV a key part of its plan to replace the Indian Point nuclear center.
Last year, the state delayed a major part of Cuomo’s Energy Highway initiative to bring more power downstate to accommodate for CPV’s entrance into the energy market. The AC transmission line plan was reworked to allow for CPV.