As Hecate project grows, so do objections

COPAKE—The Copake Town Board has unanimously approved a resolution formalizing its opposition to the installation of an industrial-sized solar facility in Craryville and has called on the agency that will review the project application to deny it.

Another update that came to light at the Town Board’s October 28 special meeting was that the developer’s project area seems to have moved and grown.

The Town Board conducted a second special meeting via Zoom to update and provide information to the public about Hecate Energy’s proposal to build a 60-megawatt solar facility in Craryville, a hamlet in the town’s northwest corner.

A Chicago-based energy company, Hecate’s project is called “Shepherd’s Run.” The company’s project proposes to install 200,000 solar panels on 500 acres within a 900-acre project area. The facility will be located near the county Route 7/state Route 23 intersection, primarily south of Route 23, although specifically where the solar panels will be placed has not yet been revealed. Most of that land is now used for farming. It is near the Taconic Hills Central School and residential areas.

Two hundred eighty-two viewers tuned in to the online meeting, including at least one Hecate representative.

The town’s newly adopted three-page resolution also urges the Columbia County Board of Supervisors to go on the record as opposing the “Shepherd’s Run” project and to opt out of the Real Property Tax Law that exempts the facility from being taxed, as the Town did in September. The resolution urges Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to adopt legislation “which would meet the challenges of climate change without violating Home Rule and local zoning powers and which would more fairly distribute the responsibility of confronting Climate Change among all communities throughout the State instead of placing the entire burden on small rural communities.”

Following public comment on the resolution and the vote, town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler called on Deputy Supervisor Richard Wolf, the town’s solar project liaison, and the attorney representing the town on the solar project, Benjamin E. Wisniewski, Esq., to give updates.

Mr. Wolf recapped the components of the project: several solar arrays, with panels seated on steel-tracking mounts that would follow the sun throughout the day; inverters; a new substation constructed next to the existing substation on the north side of Route 23, near County Route 7; a voltage collection system; tie lines connecting to the NYSEG transmission lines; a switching station; and, possibly, an energy storage system, comprising lithium-ion battery cells enclosed in modules stacked in racks inside 53-foot-long shipping containers, which would be fixed onto concrete foundation pads along Route 23, directly east of the existing NYSEG Craryville substation.

‘Our world is in trouble.’

Nancy Hoag Rasweiler

Craryville landowner

New information uncovered by the Town’s engineers, LaBella Associates, shows that the supposed 900-acre project area has been revised. Instead of the rectangular-shaped area shown in Hecate’s January submission, the area is now elliptical, according to a map contained in the lengthy Scoping Statement, which indicates that the project area has been moved and expanded.

According to analysis by the engineers the original rectangular project area was never 900 acres, but was more than twice that size at 2,122 acres. The new elliptical project area is even larger at 2,452 acres, according to LaBella’s calculations.

Slides shown by Mr. Wolf juxtaposing the two areas showed that the new project area, “to the west, no longer bisects the Taconic School property, and now is just east of the football field. The western boundary extends southeast, well beyond the southern boundary of the original project area, well south across County Route 7 toward Copake Lake and well up Center Hill Road, before arcing east and north back towards Route 23.”

Nearly 30 people spoke during the public forum that followed during the almost three-hour meeting. The majority of speakers who live adjacent to the project area, voiced opposition to the project because of its massive size. While most speakers said they support solar energy, the Shepherds Run project is too large and misplaced, they said.

Concerns included bad effects on natural resources like watersheds and forests, displacement of wildlife and birds; negative impacts on the viewshed, property values, tourism and the loss of farmland.

Both Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th) and State Senator Daphne Jordan (R-43rd) were on the call and stated their support for Copake in its fight against the project. Ms. Jordan said she introduced legislation that calls for a public referendum on such projects before they can be approved. Ms. Barrett said this would be the largest solar facility in the state and advocated for alternate siting locations such as gray fields, abandoned shopping center parking lots and warehouses.

Speaking about their experience as one of the main landowners in the project working with Hecate, were Dr. William and Nancy Hoag Rasweiler.

Saying he would love to discuss the project with anyone, Dr. Rasweiler, said, “We have to make a decision now for the future.” He said, “People need to be respectful, not like a bunch of little kids running around.”

Dr. Rasweiler is a local veterinarian and owner of the land on which Sir William Angus Farm on County Route 7 in Craryville is located. He and his wife appeared at an April 2017 Copake Town Board meeting with Hecate representatives to present the then 400-acre solar project plan to the board and the public.

Immediately following the presentation, the board voted to approve a solar energy law, that had been under consideration for some months, limiting the size of solar installations to 10-acres. Hecate returned to the town with a new plan for an even larger facility in January of this year.

“Our world is in trouble,” said Mrs. Rasweiler, if this solar facility produces extra energy that will power communities beyond Copake, “what’s so terrible about that?”

She said the land in question has been “degraded’’ from constant corn cropping. “In 20 years that land will be restored.” She maintained that Hecate will take care of the used solar panels at the end of that time and that the panels are recyclable. She said everyone is interested in combating climate change, “but not in my backyard.

“We live here. We are here to stay, we will deal with it as well. We believe in taking action,” she said.

She pointed to many speakers’ endorsement of agriculture, but said when a crop duster sprayed the crops, people were up in arms. She said people want the land to stay in farming, but they don’t want herbicides. “We are sorry for your concern that we are ruining your ‘Land of Rural Charm.’”

About two and a half hours into meeting, Hecate Project Manager Alex Campbell spoke.

He said he, like one of the previous speakers, was “frustrated.”

He said he had “joined to be part of the community,” but meeting people has been challenging due to Covid-19.

Mr. Campbell said he hoped that the nearly 300 people who attended the town’s meeting would also attend an open house Hecate plans to hold in the near future.

He said he has tried to be transparent; responds to calls as fast as he can and has done as much as he can. “I don’t want this to be a divisive project” and he said he was sad to hear all the negative sentiments. He said the project will mitigate climate change, which he has committed his life to do.

“All we are trying to do is make clean energy from the sun and provide habitat for birds, bees and butterflies… by layering our project fields with pollinator species… I feel like people aren’t really listening to the benefits of the project,” he said.

At the upcoming open house/public forum, he said Hecate will show off its plan based on the lengthy and in depth environment studies they have been required to complete.

The amount of misinformation Mr. Campbell said he heard that evening was “shocking.” He said Hecate is in the very early stages of the project and has taken the time to study and understand where the wetlands and habitats are. He mentioned plans for introducing pollinator species and native vegetation, all of which will be unveiled at the as yet unscheduled open house.

Mr. Campbell said his hope is that people “don’t start not liking their neighbors” because it is time “to come together and mitigate climate change together.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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