Hecate solar shrinks a bit; supes join the fray

COPAKE—Hecate Energy has announced a second reduction in the acreage it proposes to use for its 60-megawatt Shepherd’s Run Solar facility in Craryville.

And now the Columbia County Board of Supervisors has come out against the controversial project.

Hecate, a developer of solar farms, wind farms and energy storage projects, is headquartered in Chicago. Last month the company announced that it would switch to the state’s 94-C fast track application for its 200,000 solar panel installation.

Also, Hecate said at two April 28 Zoom information sessions that the size of the project footprint would shrink from 360 acres to 255 acres and the panels would now occupy 80.8 acres, down from 280 acres.

In January Hecate announced that it would withdraw the battery storage component from its original proposal. That disclosure came on the heels of a December 2020 announcement during a Hecate virtual informational open house that it will reduce the project’s footprint by more than 25% from 500-acres to 360-acres.

The company plans to build the facility on several parcels east of the Taconic Hills Central School and north of Copake Lake. The panel arrays will be situated primarily in four areas: on the north and south sides of state Route 23, just east of the county Route 11A intersection; on the east side of county Route 7, north of Cambridge Road; and on the southwest side of County Route 7A (Center Hill Road) south of County Route 7 in the Copake hamlet of Craryville.

According to slides presented at the information sessions, the total project area is 873 acres, of which 255 acres or 29.3% will be “fenced in” and the panels will take up 9.3% of the total area.

While all the areas where the panels would be situated remain the same, some panels have been removed from each area according to the “Project Layout Changes” slide.

It will be a ground-mounted solar facility with photovoltaic (PV) panels on “galvanized steel tracker racking structures,” according to the slides.

The panel arrays will be about 10-feet above grade at the tallest point “about the height of field corn stalks.” Panels will be a crystalline-type commonly used for residential roof-top systems.

Many of the slides in the presentation focus on pollination, emphasizing the plan to integrate a pollinator habitat into the solar development—a “pollinator partnership.”

Meanwhile at its May 12 meeting, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution “supporting the Town of Copake in opposing the development and installation of Shepherd’s Run as it is currently envisioned…”

The resolution states that Columbia County opposes state approval of renewable energy projects that are inconsistent with local laws and opposed by local governments. The county also opposes what’s called Part BBB of the state budget and urges that all utility scale solar plants of this magnitude should be subject to local environmental review.

The county Board of Supervisors “urges that local assessors should retain discretion to value all real property within their Town, including large renewable energy installations.”

The county resolution calls on the governor and 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 a disproportionate burden on small rural communities.”

Copake Deputy Supervisor/Councilman Richard Wolf said it was not at all clear that the Board of Supervisors would pass the resolution, that they had really been a split group. He said the passage of the resolution was an accomplishment that should be credited to Town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler. “She worked to get it passed,” he said.

In her remarks at the May Copake Town Board meeting, Ms. Mettler reminisced about “being a kid growing up in Copake, riding on calls with my father, who was a large animal vet. We rode from barn to barn through these beautiful hills and farms. I fully understand the urgency to protect the planet, but I also understand that we are stewards of this place we call home. It is our responsibility to protect the local environment here in Copake. If Hecate would come to the town prepared to listen and address our concerns we could agree to a more compact, more carefully sited solar installation. Given that New York State has given them free rein to do as they please, it is no wonder that they do not care about Copake.”

Asked for comment on the recent Hecate developments, Friends of Columbia Solar (www.friendsofcolumbiasolar.org) member Dan Haas responded by email, saying, “Friends of Columbia Solar believes the recent reduction in project size demonstrates Hecate’s continued willingness to listen and respond to local concerns. This is the second announced reduction in acreage, in addition to the elimination of the proposed battery storage. We anticipate more exact information about screening in the future.

“The County Board’s resolution contradicts their stated belief that climate change is an ‘existential threat.’ The way to meet an existential threat is to take action, as New York state has done by committing to a 70% renewable electricity by 2030, only 9 years away. How do we meet this ambitious and necessary goal without large-scale solar? The town and county has no answer. According to new research from SUNY Albany, we cannot eliminate the state’s emissions without 1,000 solar farms the size of Shepherd’s Run—even if we cover every landfill, abandoned shopping mall, and every other building in New York with solar panels. Shepherd’s Run represents Copake’s best hope of stepping up and taking real action on the greatest challenge of our times.”

In a statement applauding the supervisors’ vote, Darin Johnson of Sensible Solar for Rural New York (www.sensiblesolarny.org) said, “the Columbia County Board of Supervisors sent a clear and concise message to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Senate and Assembly… There must be reasonable and real balance between our state’s fight against climate change and respecting the zoning laws, natural resources, farmland, property values, and tourism- and agriculture-centric economies of rural New York.

“Unfortunately, those in Albany placed the interests of the renewable energy lobby ahead of their rural constituents, and Copake and its residents are now experiencing the adverse result. It’s time New York State officials correct their grave error,” he said.

The Columbia Paper was unable to attend Hecate’s April 28 information sessions due to the demands of press deadline that day, but did ask for a video recording of one or both of the sessions to view at a later time.

Though Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell initially said the video would be made available, he later told The Columbia Paper that the sessions had not been recorded. “Unfortunately, we decided not to record it in hopes that participants felt more open in the dialogue,” he said by email.

The slide presentation was all that was available on the website. (www.shepherdsrunsolar.com)

To contact Diane Valden email

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