COPAKE—Hecate Energy has now zeroed in on a 360-acre project area to place its 200,000 solar panels.
The panels will physically occupy 280 acres of that total 360-acre fenced-in project area—all located in and around Craryville, a hamlet in the Town of Copake.
During a slide presentation at two virtual open house sessions conducted via Zoom December 9, Hecate Energy Project Developer Alex Campbell and a couple of his “teammates” unveiled exactly where Hecate, a Chicago-based solar farm developer, will put all the solar panels contained in its proposed 60-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility called “Shepherd’s Run.”
Hecate is applying for the project under Article 10 of the New York State Public Service Law, which governs the process for siting and permitting. The application process will bypass the town zoning law.
For months, the public has been hearing that the panels could cover 500 acres of farmland, contained within a 900-acre study area. Now the project overview presented calls for the ground-mounted panels, which will sit on galvanized steel tracker racking structures that follow the sun, to be situated in four areas on just a little more than half of the 500 acres.
The panels are described in the presentation as “low-profile, approximately 10 feet high above grade at the tallest point (about the height of field corn stalks).” They are “crystalline- type panel[s] commonly used for residential rooftop systems.”
All four panel areas are east of the Taconic Hills Central School. One area abuts the school property to the east along the south side of State Route 23. A second area is directly across the road, on the north side of Route 23, east of Two Town Road.
The third and largest area starts east of County Route 7 just south of Route 23 and runs southeast to Cambridge Road. The fourth area is on the southwest side of County Route 7A just south of the County Route 7 intersection.
With the installation of the Shepherd’s Run project, Columbia County has the opportunity to be the first county in New York State to meet the state’s goal of 70% renewable energy usage by 2030, said Mr. Campbell.
The project will generate about 110,000 MWh of energy annually—enough to meet the average yearly electricity needs of 15,000 households, according to the presentation.
The panel array areas skirt delineated streams, surface water and wetlands.
According to the presentation, “The Project will preserve the 159 acres of wetlands with a 100 ft. buffer surrounding those areas. Wetland management is reviewed and monitored by NYSDEC, the Department of Public Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
Mr. Campbell stressed that the project is still in an early stage, though it was originally conceived back in 2016. He said the project is on track to be completed eight years from that point, with a decision from the siting board expected by the end of 2022, followed by a 9 to 11 month construction period, with energy production starting some time in 2023. The complete slide presentation may be found at www.ShepherdsRunSolar.com
After an hour-long or more presentation, the public was invited to ask questions or make comments.
Alan Friedman asked about the noise that happens when the solar panels move during the day. Mr. Campbell had said the tracking system makes a clicking sound. Mr. Friedman was concerned about the distraction 200,000 clicks outside the school might cause to students.
A resident of Center Hill Road, who will over look the project asked how Hecate plans to screen it from her view. Mr. Campbell said that “can be problematic,” and is “something we have to figure out” and is something “we are going to do everything we can to mitigate.” He said a future open house early next year will cover visual impacts and analysis.
A woman wanted to know who will make the solar panels? Will they be made in the USA? She mentioned GE Schenectady. Mr. Campbell said that will be determined after bids for the panels are solicited.
Bill Newcomb said one of the solar array areas is located right across from his house. He noted that a stream on that parcel is not marked on the map. He wanted to know what the 70 to 80-acre parcel with solar panels on it will look like. Mr. Campbell said he would meet with Mr. Newcomb about it.
Other questions were about:
*Whether toxic chemicals are contained in the solar panels. Mr. Campbell said the only toxic chemical involved is not in the panels, but is associated with the lead soldering in the wires. He said there is no cadmium in the type of panels Hecate will use.
*During construction, how disruptive will it be? Will there be noise and many trucks blocking the roads? Mr. Campbell said the construction is very fast and formulaic. He said it depends if cement is used in which to set the steel I-beams that the panels sit on.
Tom Goldsworthy questioned Mr. Campbell about how the project is being financed and how much it will cost. Mr. Campbell said Hecate is financing it with its own cash and the estimated cost is 10s of millions of dollars. No bids have yet been solicited and the price of steel and aluminum is going up, Mr. Campbell said, noting he did not know the exact answer.
Mr. Goldsworthy wanted to know the projection on how much money the project will make? Mr. Goldsworthy said he understands it is a for-profit project and since Hecate is looking for a “community buy-in” he wanted to know Hecate’s motivation to provide clean energy. He again asked what profits will be generated by the project.
Mr. Campbell said he would not release “competitive” information.
Questions and comments hit on the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, which will pass through a portion of the project area, along with the impact of project fencing on wildlife and where will the power generated go. Discussion continued for more than an hour past the 7 p.m. end time of the evening session.