Subpoenas sought in alternative energy project

No, not here in Sussex County.  Not yet, anyway.  But just to let you know that we are not alone in being victims from things like the solar project scam, here is some fresh news from Warren County, New York, near Lake George.

The numbers are smaller than what we could end up losing in Sussex County, but there they are pushing forward with their investigation.  Good for them.

Subpoenas sought in Siemens probe

GEOTHERMAL INVESTIGATION MOVING FORWARD

January 08, 2016 7:30 pm  •   

Warren County sheriff’s investigators are seeking subpoenas as the agency looks into an alternative energy project that some believe resulted in the county being defrauded of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Subpoenas served on potential witnesses would compel them to cooperate and provide whatever evidence is requested as they look into whether the county has gotten the savings it was told it has through a “geothermal” energy project at Warren County Municipal Center.

The subpoenas could be issued in conjunction with a grand jury investigation, or without grand jury intervention.

Travis Whitehead, an electrical engineer and government watchdog, has analyzed the $4.3 million project and concluded the county did not get hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy savings that it was guaranteed by contractor Siemens Building Technologies. Whitehead filed a complaint with the Sheriff’s Office seeking a criminal investigation.

Siemens has maintained its projects have saved the county money. A company spokeswoman issued the following statement Friday after a request for comment:

“Siemens completed an energy savings project at the Warren County Municipal Center in 2008, which included the replacement of an aging heat pump system with a new, energy-efficient, geothermal heat pump and condensing boiler system, as well as the installation of a new energy management system and energy-efficient lighting throughout the building.

“Siemens is proud of the work we have completed, which has provided the Warren County Municipal Center with an improved infrastructure that has reduced its energy consumption and its environmental footprint.”

The Sheriff’s Office did not use subpoenas during the investigation of a natural gas cogeneration project that was built at Westmount Health Facility, as it awaited a possible grand jury investigation. The purported savings from that Siemens project have been questioned as well.

Among the witnesses who refused to meet with police during the cogeneration inquiry was John Haskell, the former Thurman supervisor who was chairman of the county Facilities Committee, which oversaw the project.

The Sheriff’s Office has requested assistance in the geothermal investigation from the Warren County District Attorney’s Office, which was involved with the cogeneration investigation for years until determining that a special prosecutor was needed.

That determination occurred when the Sheriff’s Office concluded there was probable cause to charge the county administrator with official misconduct, though no charges were filed.

The state Attorney General’s Office was given the case, but declined to file criminal charges and instead indicated it may take civil court action.

With the geothermal inquiry having just begun late last year, no such potential conflicts of interest have been identified, so the Sheriff’s Office has been working with the office of Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan.

Warren County Sheriff Bud York said he could not discuss the “geothermal” inquiry this week, other than to say it was progressing.

“We are moving forward and awaiting replies from prosecutors,” York said.

Hogan said she could not comment on the matter this week.

Glens Falls 2nd Ward Supervisor Peter McDevitt, who was among the first county supervisors to raise questions about the Siemens projects, has said he believes an independent engineer review is warranted. He said half of the cost would be paid by the New York State Energy Research Development Authority if the county chose a state-sanctioned firm.

“We need an independent voice to tell us: Are we saving any real money?” he asked.