Copake prepares to sue the state

COPAKE—The new fast track approval process Hecate Energy has chosen for its proposed Shepherd’s Run 60-megawatt solar facility may encounter a bump in the road.

At its June 10 meeting, the Copake Town Board voted unanimously to sue the State of New York, specifically, its newly-established Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) (ores.ny.gov), because its regulations are “flawed and could violate numerous provisions of state law including the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA),” according to Benjamin Wisniewski, an attorney with the Loughlin Group law firm, which represents Copake in matters related to Hecate Energy’s Shepherd’s Run solar project.

“To ensure ORES takes a hard look at renewable energy projects as required by SEQRA and to protect the town against the flawed ORES approval process, I recommend that the town authorize our firm to investigate and commence litigation against ORES … to challenge the legality of the regulations adopted by ORES,” Mr. Wisniewski said at the meeting. If successful, the lawsuit would annul ORES 94-C regulations, he explained.

Hecate, a developer of solar and wind facilities, along with energy storage projects, is headquartered in Chicago. In April, the company announced that it would switch to the state’s 94-C fast track permission application for its 200,000 solar panel installation instead of continuing with the Article 10 application process. Both of these state application avenues bypass local Copake Zoning Law.

The company plans to build its industrial-sized 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.

The project size remains much larger than the 10-acres Copake Zoning Law allows, even though Hecate announced in April that it would shrink the project footprint from 360 acres to 255 acres and the panels would occupy 80.8 acres, down from 280 acres. Much of the land on which Hecate Energy proposes to construct its facility is currently used for agriculture.

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 that it would reduce the project’s footprint by more than 25% from the original 500 acres to 360 acres.

At the June meeting, Copake Supervisor Jeanne Mettler offered a resolution to commence litigation “to challenge the regulations adopted pursuant to Section 94-C of the Executive Law.”

The Town of Copake will be joining with other petitioners in the lawsuit and Copake will not be responsible for any costs associated with the lawsuit.

In his monthly update on where things stand with the Hecate solar project, Deputy Supervisor/Councilman Richard Wolf talked about Hecate’s Notice of Intent to File an Application for siting approval for its proposed solar power plant with ORES on or about July 15.

ORES regulations require Hecate to have a substantive meeting with the chief executive of the town (Supervisor Mettler) at least 60 days before a siting permit application can be filed with ORES, said Mr. Wolf.

Hecate is supposed to meet to share required, detailed information such as:

* A facility description and the environment in which it would be constructed

* A detailed map showing where each of the power plant components would be placed (panels, inverters, additional substation, access roads, transmission lines)

* A summary of Copake’s laws governing “the construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning” of the proposed industrial power plant, and a list of “unreasonably burdensome” laws that Hecate will seek permission from ORES to ignore

* A list of all of the things Hecate has done to comply with Copake’s laws, “through design changes or otherwise”

* Consult with the town to identify potential impacts of the proposed solar power plant on Craryville and the larger Copake community, like transportation and visual resources so these potential impacts can be included in its application to ORES.

Though the meeting is supposed to take place at least 60 days before the application is filed, Mr. Wolf noted that Hecate intends to file on or about July 15. “That’s 35 days from now, and there’s still been no meeting.”

Hecate first requested the mandated pre-application meeting in mid-April. The town then “requested information in advance of the meeting so that there could be a useful discussion about the details of Hecate’s proposal. Hecate declined to provide the information sought, which has resulted in an impasse,” said Mr. Wolf.

ORES regulations also require a second pre-filing meeting with “community members who may be adversely impacted by the siting of the facility.” This required community meeting must take place after the meeting with the Town Supervisor, and also at least 60 days before filing, according to the deputy supervisor.

“If Hecate goes ahead and attempts to file an application without the two mandated meetings, it is the town’s position that, by its own regulations, ORES may not accept the application. This could be an early test of ORES’ objectivity,” he said.

Hecate Project Developer disagrees that Hecate has ignored the town’s request for advance information and substantive meetings.

“With regard to compliance with the 94-C pre-application process, we are completing and following all requirements necessary to file our application. As a part of this process, we have provided a pre-application meeting package and requested a pre-application meeting with Town officials on three occasions: April 14, May 4 and June 11, 2021. While we have not yet been successful in gaining the town’s agreement to hold the pre-application meeting, we will continue to try and meet with the town and stand ready to work with local officials to discuss any issues,” Mr. Campbell told The Columbia Paper by email this week.

“Throughout the multi-year development and permitting process of the Shepherd’s Run solar facility, Hecate has repeatedly gone above and beyond regulatory requirements to ensure we are communicating effectively with all relevant stakeholders.”

Mr. Campbell said Hecate “developed and implemented an approved Public Involvement Program Plan, held three public open house meetings, met with the Town officials on many occasions, conducted weekly public virtual office hours for nearly six months, attended monthly town boards meetings, met with Copake residents and key stakeholders on a regular basis and provided regular updates via our website.” (www.shepherdsrunsolar.com)

Asked for comment on the Town’s plan to sue ORES, Mr. Campbell wrote, “that is a matter between the town and ORES.”

To contact Diane Valden email

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