Solar farm firm pulls plug on open house plan

COPAKE—Hecate Energy will not conduct in-person open houses to solicit public comment or answer questions before it files details of its industrial-sized solar energy facility in Craryville with the state.

In Copake Councilmember and Deputy Supervisor Richard Wolf’s monthly update June 11, he said Hecate Energy, a Chicago-based energy company, has filed a Public Involvement Program, which told state officials that before filing details of its proposal to site a 60-megawatt solar facility with 200,000 solar panels on 500 acres within a 900-acre project area, it would hold two open house meetings to answer questions about the proposal from Copake residents and address their concerns.

The project area is near the intersection of State Route 23 and County Route 7, primarily south of Route 23 in the Copake hamlet of Craryville.

But the company now wants to take a new approach. “Considering the current restrictions on public gatherings resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, and the health and safety of potential attendees, it is not possible or prudent to hold the in-person open houses that Hecate originally planned,” Hecate Energy Project Developer Alex Campbell told The Columbia Paper in an email this week. Mr. Campbell said Hecate has discussed an alternative means of collecting public input with the state Department of Public Service and is implementing that method instead of open houses.

Councilman Wolf said a document that Hecate must file, called the preliminary scoping statement (PSS) “may provide information about exactly where, within the project area, the solar panels and other equipment will be placed, and, perhaps, how Hecate will attempt to limit the adverse environmental impacts of the project on wetlands, wildlife, and the view shed.”

The problem,” according to the councilman, “is that without benefit of input from town residents, Hecate’s PSS will lack the very information its Public Involvement Program plan was designed to obtain to help inform the scoping statement.”

Hecate’s alternative approach to solicit input from the public, has been to mail a postcard to all residents/landowners within 2.5 miles of the project area boundary. “The postcard provides information on how to access an informational packet that includes the materials that would have been presented at the open houses,” Mr. Campbell said via email.

The informational packet is available on the project’s website, which is provided on the postcard. Copies are also available at Copake Town Hall.

The postcard and informational packet also invites comments and questions about the project from the public within at least a 10-day period via the project’s website (www.shepherdsrunsolar.com/open-house), email () or toll-free telephone number (877-772-0822). Comments and questions must be submitted by June 26.

The company says that after the comment period ends, Hecate will post relevant comments received and Hecate’s responses to the project’s website and on the state public service department’s “DMM” website for the project. The packet of information allows the public “to review the presented materials at a time that is convenient to them,” Mr. Campbell wrote.

The 2.5 radius from the site includes people in Copake, Hillsdale, Taghkanic and Claverack, who were also sent the postcard. The company also ran newspaper ads in The Columbia Paper and other publications “to expand the notification even further,” the project developer said in his email.

But Mr. Wolf said the town “strongly believe[s] Hecate’s revised approach is unacceptable. It will not reach all Copake residents, only those with an address that is not more than 2 1/2 miles from the project area boundaries.

It will eliminate the very group interaction an in-person open house would ensure,” the councilmember said.

He said the attorney hired by the town to handle the solar case, Benjamin Wisniewski, has written to Hecate with a copy to the state, “demanding that the mailing be sent to all Copake residents. He also demanded that Hecate refrain from filing its Preliminary Scoping Statement until 150 days after it filed its supplemental [Public Involvement Program] with the state, June 4, as Article 10 requires.”

Mr. Wolf said, “Hecate should not be allowed to use the pandemic as an excuse to forego the public participation requirements of Article 10. Hecate should wait until gathering restrictions are eased and Copake residents are able to safely meet with Hecate at in-person open houses, as Hecate promised the state, and represented to the Town of Copake, would happen. What is the rush?” the councilman said in his update.

According to Mr. Campbell’s email, the state “has adopted aggressive renewables development mandates, and projects need to find ways to continue development during these uncertain times. Postponing open houses indefinitely until social distancing measures are relaxed is incongruent with these renewables mandates.”

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