Solar project foes meet with allies

COPAKE—Hecate Energy has a fight on its hands.

Recently enacted state laws, in the words of opponents, have “stacked the deck” against small rural towns like Copake in favor of industrial-scale solar facility developers and reaching the governor’s goal of 70% renewable energy generation in New York State by 2030. But Copake is not backing down, and the town has the support of friends and neighbors region-wide.

Headquartered in Chicago, Hecate Energy, a developer of solar and wind power plants, along with energy storage solutions, proposes to construct a 60-megawatt photovoltaic solar facility called Shepherd’s Run.

The proposal calls for 200,000 solar panels seated on steel-tracking mounts that follow the sun throughout the day to physically occupy 280 acres of a total 360-acre fenced-in project area.

The panels would be situated in four main multi-acre arrays on both sides of state Route 23 and county Route 7 in the rural, residential Copake hamlet of Craryville adjacent to the Taconic Hills Central School and near the Copake Lake community.

Most of the land where the facility would be located is currently in agriculture.

The project is not permitted under Copake’s Zoning Law, yet it is moving forward because Hecate has bypassed local law and is seeking site approval from the New York State Siting Board, under procedures in Article 10 of the Public Service Law.

A major ally in Copake’s fight to get Hecate Energy to comply with local zoning law or go somewhere else is Sensible Solar for Rural New York.

This coalition of concerned citizens in rural Columbia County in strong opposition to the Shepherd’s Run Solar Project is on a mission to get everyone informed about the project, get people talking about it and, if they are so inclined, to join the opposition effort.

To that end, Sensible Solar hosted a virtual Town Hall meeting March 3, which attracted nearly 250 participants.

Viewers heard from members of the Sensible Solar leadership team, local officials and state politicians, the attorney representing Copake on the solar project, Benjamin Wisniewski and plenty of local residents on both sides of the issue.

There were striking videos of residents standing with the rolling rural land sprawling out behind them, speaking about the nature of the place now and what the project will take away.

Copake resident Gerry Ketz says in the video, “Something that big around here is just going to dominate and erase the natural beauty of the place.”

Copake Lake resident Lindsay LeBrecht, Copake Supervisor Jeanne Mettler and Copake Deputy Supervisor Richard Wolf recounted how the project got started and all the events leading up to where things stand now.

Ms. Mettler noted, that if the project happens “it will be devastating to Copake—it’s just too big. Copake doesn’t even have an industrial zone.”

Mr. Wolf, who is the town’s point-person on the project and gives monthly updates at Towm Board meetings, said Shepherd’s Run “is not a solar farm, it’s a power plant.” The town councilman said the town wants Hecate as its partner. The town wants to work together to do “sensible solar.” Hecate needs “to further shrink its proposal,” work with the town and “come up with a plan we can all live with.”

The company has downsized its proposal since it first introduced it.

Senator Daphne Jordan (R-43rd) spoke about meeting with area residents and hearing their concerns. She listed her own concerns regarding Hecate’s lack of analysis of the impacts of the loss of hundreds of acres of farmland on local agriculture; its lack of analysis of local food production and lack of a decommissioning plan. She called Hecate’s current plan “a non-starter.”

Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th) stressed the need for “balance between the encouragement of large scale renewable development and the preservation of the rural character and the economies of local communities.”

Attorney Wisniewski talked about the newly-created Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ores.ny.gov) and how it makes things even faster and easier for the siting of solar plants. He spoke about how “intervener funding” for public interest groups has been cut from 50% to 25% and said, “it may well kill public opposition in most of the state to most of these projects.” He concluded by saying Copake “is prepared and ready to fight this until the end.”

Darin Johnson, formerly of Copake and now of Austerlitz, with the Sensible Solar leadership team said that while the coalition supports renewable energy and the state’s ambitious goals to combat climate change, “the state’s approach to siting solar projects puts developers not communities in the driver’s seat and this is made worse by the ORES regulations that went into effect today.”

He said, “Copake and rural communities stand to lose big because decisions are driven by profit margins and the super aggressive time lines of developers, not by community interests.”

He pointed to alternative sites for such large-scale solar facilities, “more desolate remote areas of the state that would gladly welcome the tax revenues that should come with such projects. Brownfields and Superfund sites that can be built upon and existing industrial areas and commercial buildings, such as on top of Amazon’s super-sized distribution centers.”

Mr. Johnson went on to show a video, pointing out project pieces and their proximity to natural resources, the Taconic Hill School, the Rheinstrom Hill Audubon Center and the Harlem Valley Rail Trial, not to mention local homes and businesses.

To learn more about Sensible Solar of Rural New York or to get involved, sign a petition or donate visit www.sensiblesolarny.org

A local pro-project group emerged during the public comment portion of the meeting called Friends of Columbia Solar. A member of the group Juan Pablo Velez of Copake said he does not think the Hecate solar farm will alter Copake, but climate change will.

Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell was online at the Sensible Solar meeting but did not speak. His response to an email request for comment on the meeting was not received by press time.

To contact Diane Valden email

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