Questions on negotiations with Hecate go unanswered

COPAKE—Town officials expect Hecate Energy will soon file a response to a second notice of incompleteness issued by the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) on the Hecate application back in September.

Another recent development in ongoing issues surrounding Hecate’s application for Shepherd’s Run, a controversial industrial scale solar-powered electric generating facility in Craryville, involves apparently unauthorized negotiations.

Hecate Energy, a Chicago-based developer of solar and wind facilities and energy storage projects, has applied to construct a 200,000 solar panel facility east of the Taconic Hills School District and north of Copake Lake in and around the Copake hamlet of Craryville. The solar panels would be erected on 228 acres of an 880-acre total project area. Much of the acreage is prime agricultural land. A school district campus and residential areas border the property.

The massive project is not permitted under Copake Zoning Law, yet it is moving forward because Hecate has bypassed local law and is seeking site approval from ORES under the state’s new streamlined siting process for renewable energy projects, known as 94-c.

In his recent monthly updates on the Hecate project for November and December, Copake Deputy Supervisor Richard Wolf, noted that ORES issued a second notice of incompleteness in connection with Hecate’s application because the energy developer did not provide “sufficient detailed information… to enable ORES to conclude that Hecate’s siting permit application was complete.”

Once Hecate submits its response, ORES has 60 days to determine whether the application is complete. If it is, ORES will issue a draft permit; if not, ORES would issue a third Notice of Incomplete Application to which Hecate would have to respond. If ORES does not make a determination about the application’s completeness in 60 days, the application is automatically deemed complete and Hecate would receive a draft siting permit, according to Mr. Wolf’s report.

One of the areas ORES referred to in Hecate’s application as “lacking meaningful information has to do with Hecate’s claimed desire to be ‘a community partner’” with Copake.

“Hecate claimed it had made significant changes to its initial siting application as a result of recommendations from the ad hoc Working Group. In response, ORES has told Hecate to ‘specifically identify and reference the Working Group’s recommendations’ that it has incorporated into its application,” Mr. Wolf reported.

The Working Group is made up of people on all sides of the proposed solar facility who met over several months to come up with a list of recommendations for how Hecate “can do better by Copake.”

Mr. Wolf has regularly reported that Hecate is “unwilling” to incorporate most of the ad hoc Working Group’s recommendations in the Shepherd’s Run application, among them the creation of a 300-acre community accessible green space that would protect view sheds, provide effective screening of much of the project from nearby homes and offer nature walks and bicycling trails to Copake residents and visitors. Hecate also remains unwilling to provide financial compensation to homeowners whose properties would be most directly and adversely effected by the project, according to Mr. Wolf.

In The Columbia Paper’s October 20 news story, “State orders Hecate to clean up it’s app.,…again” it was reported in a statement by Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell that he and the Working Group were in talks “working on implementing [the Working Group’s] recommendations to the project.”

Working Group and Friends of Copake Solar member Dan Haas confirmed in the story that he was involved in the talks with Mr. Campbell. He said, “Talks are ongoing and have been progressing well. We hope to release a public statement in the next few weeks.”

Additionally in the October story, Working Group and Sensible Solar for Rural New York member Meredith Kane said that Hecate and the Working Group are making progress on negotiating a separate “Host Community Benefit Agreement.”

She said, the agreement would “embody the Working Group’s recommendations for the project. Our goal is to have ORES require Hecate to enter into and perform its obligations under the Host Community Benefit Agreement as a condition of its permit. So in the end, our goal is to have the Working Group’s recommendations included as part of the ORES application and permit. We are working on that at the same time that we are negotiating the specific terms of the agreement with Hecate.”

But in his November Hecate update, Copake Councilman Wolf made it clear, “We are not negotiating with Hecate, nor have we authorized anyone to do so on the board’s behalf. In fact, I have not been contacted by anyone from Hecate in months.”

Additionally, in a letter dated November 9, Sensible Solar for Rural New York (SSRNY) wrote to the Copake Town Board supporting the town’s position that the scale of the project is too massive for this small rural community and will have negative impacts on local farmland, wetlands, streams, wildlife, forests, viewsheds, historic resources, property values and agriculture and the tourism-dependent economy.

The letter concludes: “…we would like to reiterate SSRNY’s full support for the Town of Copake’s position on this project. We would also like to clarify that SSRNY has not and will not be a party nor have we been asked to be a party to any negotiations with Hecate.

“Further, SSRNY believes that no organization or individual should be negotiating a Host Community Benefit Agreement with Hecate, as only Copake Town officials have standing to do so.”

The letter is signed by nine members of SSRNY, including Lindsay LeBrecht, who read the letter into the record at the November 10 Town Board meeting.

A Columbia Paper email request to Ms. Kane for comment regarding the statements from Mr. Wolf and SSRNY about negotiations was not responded to by press deadline.

Mr. Haas responded to the email request for comment, noting, “… if you want input from me, texting at noon and expecting a reply by five is not realistic. I don’t check email every hour.

“The Hecate business is complex and I would need time to give a considered reply.”

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