Town faults state effort to fast track solar farm

COPAKE—Columbia County is on the record as opposed to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day Budget Amendment to dramatically speed up the permitting and construction of renewable energy projects.

At the Columbia County Board of Supervisors March 11 meeting, a majority of supervisors voted in favor of a resolution requesting that the governor’s amendment be withdrawn before the state budget is voted on. “…we petition the State to respect our Home Rules rights, and to defend our authority to regulate renewable energy projects as the citizens of our community see fit,” says the resolution.

In addition, at their March 12 meetings, the town boards of Copake and Ancram each adopted their own resolutions opposing the proposed amendment “and any attempts to diminish [either towns’] authority to establish and enforce its land use regulations.”

The resolution is of particular urgency in Copake, where Hecate Energy, a Chicago-based energy company, intends to build a 60-Megawatt solar facility. The generation of that much power will require nearly 200,000 solar panels. The facility’s footprint would occupy almost 500 acres within a 900-acre area, according to an update on the massive solar project delivered by Deputy Town Supervisor Richard Wolf at the March meeting.

Hecate announced its new and enlarged plan for the “Shepherd’s Run Solar” project February 3. The proposed site is on property owned by Dr. William Rasweiler, a local veterinarian, and other abutting lands along State Route 23 and County Route 7 in Craryville, a hamlet in the northwest corner of the town.

Hecate would lease the land for 20 to 30 years and expects to be up and running by the third quarter of 2022.

As required for any project over 25 MW, Hecate is applying for a permit to build the solar farm under Article 10 of the state Public Service Law, which provides for the review of new or modified electric generating facilities by the Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment instead of the local Planning and Zoning boards. This comprehensive process enables community involvement by providing local representation on the siting board and funding for locally interested groups and individuals to participate in the process.

But Article 10 may soon be superseded by the governor’s proposed budget amendment which, “if passed as part of the State budget, would drastically reduce Copake’s already limited opportunity to comment upon—and hopefully affect— the siting and size of Hecate’s Shepherd’s Run solar project,” said Councilman Wolf, who was appointed by Supervisor Jeanne Mettler to coordinate the town’s response to the Hecate application.

The proposed budget amendment entitled the Accelerated Renewable Emergency Growth and Benefit Act, “would dramatically curtail the permitting process” Mr. Wolf said. Once an application is deemed complete by the Siting Office, “draft permit conditions would be proposed and published for public comment” when Copake would submit a statement about whether the proposed facility will operate in compliance with applicable local laws and regulations. “The answer is clear, and the answer is no. Shepherd’s Run, with a 500-acre footprint, would be 50 times the size allowable under Copake’s Solar Law,” according to Mr. Wolf. “But this may not matter because the proposed Act contains a strong local override,” which says the siting office “may elect not to apply, in whole or in part, any local law or ordinance which would otherwise be applicable if it finds that, as applied to the proposed major renewable energy facility, is unreasonably burdensome in view of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act… and the environmental benefits of the proposed major renewable energy facility.”

Mr. Wolf said “the Town Board is moving to protect Copake’s interests” and “has interviewed two law firms with considerable energy and environmental law experience and will soon retain counsel. We also intend to hire an engineering consultant to study potential adverse environmental impacts of a large-scale solar project.”

Town representatives have met with with Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th), who has expressed her opposition to the budget amendment and will soon meet with state Senator Daphne Jordan (R-43rd) to enlist her support as well.

In her report at the beginning of the meeting, Supervisor Mettler said, “When I thought about what this Town Board might accomplish in 2020, I can assure you that confronting the coronavirus and dealing with an application for a 700+ acre solar panel project in Craryville were nowhere on the list.”

Later in the meeting, the Town Board established a Public Health Emergency Task Force and appointed Rus Davis, a pharmacist; Janet Mackin, a nurse; and David Proper, a retired Sheriff’s deputy and former fire chief, as members.

Since the March 12 meeting, the task force has issued a list of recommendations approved by the Town Board:

*From now until at least April 3, all meetings in the Town Hall are canceled, including the March 26 ZBA meeting, the April 2 Planning Board, the March 26 workplace training and all committee meetings until April 3

*No meetings of outside groups will be held at the Town Hall until further notice

*The Columbia County Office for the Aging has canceled luncheons at the Town Hall, effective March 18 and continuing until the end of the month. At that time the situation will be reevaluated.

A full list of curtailed activities and other coronavirus updates can be found on the Town’s website

To contact Diane Valden email

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