Offshore wind developers, citing changing market conditions, are demanding what could be billions of dollars in additional subsidies—but refusing to let the public see how much or explain their reasoning. An unlikely team is pushing to make them.

Empire Wind and Sunrise Wind have contracted with the state to build hundreds of wind turbines off Long Island and Martha’s Vineyard and then get a guaranteed subsidy through charges applied to customer bills statewide. Earlier this month, the state Public Service Commission took steps to reopen those contracts as the developers demanded more money to complete the projects.

The amount of additional money demanded, however, was redacted in documents posted by the PSC website, as was the basis offered by Empire and Sunrise.

A filing yesterday by the City of New York and Multiple Intervenors (MI), a group of large private and nonprofit electricity customers, to the state Public Service Commission would compel Empire Wind and Sunrise Wind to show how much they’re asking for and why.

NYC and MI, noting that the developers are looking to change the terms of deals to which they already agreed, explain:

Petitioners’ excessive redactions of critical information means that customers do not know the total amount of additional compensation that these developers are asking them to pay, nor can they evaluate the claimed need for such relief, and they are being deprived of the opportunity to develop fully-informed comments responsive to the Petitions.

Excessive redactions are not new for OSW developers, and the bids that led to their contracts contain redactions that render them meaningless. It’s an abuse of a provision in New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) that allows commercial enterprises to keep confidential information that could harm their commercial interests if disclosed.

That FOIL provision existed in the law’s original form to protect trade secrets and sensitive commercial information in records provided to the state under legal compulsion—like regulated insurance companies and banks. The agency known today as Empire State Development lobbied to expand the provision to commercial enterprises voluntarily doing business with the state.

The Legislature declared when it enacted FOIL that “the government is the public’s business” and that access to information “should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.” The same should be true of PSC proceedings on billions of dollars of subsidies. 

It’s unclear when or whether the PSC will grant the NYC-MI motion. But it highlights the real danger New York ratepayers won’t find out how much they’re being soaked until the ink dries on the (rewritten) deals.

About the Author

Cam Macdonald

Cameron J. “Cam” Macdonald is an Adjunct Fellow with the Empire Center and Executive Director and General Counsel for the Government Justice Center.

Read more by Cam Macdonald

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