Solar farm plan comes baaaack

CRARYVILLE—Three years ago, Hecate Energy proposed to install a super-sized solar farm in and around the Craryville hamlet.

The 40-megawatt, ground-mounted solar project which was to occupy about 400-acres of the 700-acre Rasweiler farm in Craryville was considerably larger than the 10-acres permitted for utility-scale projects under Copake’s then new law regulating solar installations.

Since its initial introduction in 2017 the project has been in development. Now it’s back and bigger than before. And because of its size and Article 10 of the State Public Service Law, what the town’s solar law allows may not matter.

Solar panels like these are part of a proposed solar farm in Craryville. Photo by David Lee

Hecate Energy, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, is a developer of solar farms, wind farms, and energy storage projects. In a February 3 press release, Hecate announced its new and improved “Shepherd’s Run Solar” project—a 60-megawatt photovoltaic (PV) solar array to be built along State Route 23 and County Route 7 in the Craryville hamlet. The proposed site, the Rasweiler farm and other abutting properties, total 900-acres, “though Hecate anticipates the final footprint of the solar farm will be significantly smaller,” the release said.

Asked about the significance of the “Shepherd’s Run” name, Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell said in a phone interview this week, that because of the project location in a “farming community” his firm liked the idea of a “gathering solar cells instead of sheep.”

Also, the firm is exploring a pilot project through Cornell University in which sheep or goats graze in the solar fields to control vegetation, replacing lawn mowers.

Mr. Campbell stressed the project benefits, such as property taxes, “$5 million to $7 million in new revenue” paid via a structured agreement to support the school, fire department, rescue squad, library and local business. This “structured approach to tax payment will not decline over time. It will be a consistent, significant revenue source,” he said.

Asked about the increase in project size, Mr. Campbell said that since the original project was proposed, “a lot of work has been done and lessons have been learned” through experience with projects in Coxsackie, Greene County, and Coeymans, Albany County. Smaller projects do not necessarily equate to cheaper projects and once the money is spent on the design, “we have to figure out the most efficient way to do the project.”

The firm has also “doubled down” and increased spending to mitigate visual impacts to maintain Copake’s “rural charm and natural beauty.” Consultants have been conducting visual studies of the landscape in winter and summer to get a sense of different perspectives and how vegetative screening may be used to camouflage the project most effectively.

The firm is also studying the landscape to optimize solar panel placement and minimize visual impacts with setbacks, not taking down trees, maintaining views of mountains, forests and wetlands. A raptor survey is currently ongoing and an archaeological survey will get underway in the spring—all in an effort “to pin down what land is usable” without intruding on historical structures or endangered species.

“The main thing is we are committed to a community project. We are not a fly-by-night company. We will continue to operate for decades to come,” said Mr. Campbell.

Visual impacts will be mitigated even in the decommission process—“the steel pylons come out and the solar cells are recycled. The land is given back to the landowners in better condition, recharged after 20 to 30 years of rest without pollutants,” he said.

According to the press release, “based upon the project’s planned size, it will serve the average yearly consumption of 15,000 New York households. The project will be connected to the grid at the existing Craryville substation on Route 23, eliminating the need for new transmission lines, and the electricity will flow to the nearest local points of demand.”

The project will produce enough electricity to power 60% of Columbia County’s 25,000 households, Mr. Campbell said.

An additional local economic benefit is 200+ local construction jobs over the 9- to 12-month construction period.

The project officially started February 3 and “we expect to have commercial operations in the third quarter of 2022. There is a 12-month Article 10 application process included within this timeline,” Mr. Campbell told The Columbia Paper.

The commercial operations date or “COD” is when the project has been constructed, tested, certified as complete, and can send power to the grid, he said.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law Chapter 388 of the Laws of 2011 that enacted Article 10 of the Public Service Law, August 4, 2011.

According to the law, “Article 10 provides for the siting review of new and repowered or modified major electric generating facilities in New York State by the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment (Siting Board) in a unified proceeding instead of requiring a developer or owner of such a facility to apply for numerous state and local permits.”

Key provisions of the law include:

• Defines a major electric generating facility as facilities of 25 megawatts or more

• Requires environmental and public health impact analyses, studies regarding environmental justice and

public safety, and consideration of local laws

• Directs applicants to provide funding for both the pre-application and application phases. It allows funding to be used to help intervenors (affected municipalities and other parties) hire experts to participate in the review of the application and for legal fees (but not for judicial challenges)

• Requires a utility security plan reviewed by Homeland Security

• Provides for appointment of ad hoc public members of the Siting Board from the municipality where the facility is proposed to be sited

• Requires a public information coordinator within the state Department of Public Service to assist and advise interested parties and members of the public in participating in the siting process.

Copake Supervisor Jeanne Mettler also issued a press release about the project on behalf of the Town Board, noting, “Since the project would be greater than 25 megawatts, Hecate has told the Town that they will proceed under the New York State Department of Public Service Article 10 approval process. This means that the project is reviewed by a seven member “Siting Board,” which would include various New York State commissioners as well as two representatives of the local community, and may make it exempt from the Copake Zoning Code.

“The Town of Copake adopted a Solar Energy Law in 2017. In that law the maximum acreage allowed for any utility-scale solar energy system was 10 acres. This project would greatly exceed that.” Supervisor Mettler said in the release. “We are just in the very earliest stages of this new application but it is important that the public be aware of this process at every step of the way.”

Hecate representatives expect to make public presentations about the project in the coming weeks.

To contact Diane Valden email

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