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Actions behind proposed solar farm has Copake community fuming

COPAKE — Concerned by Hecate Energy’s decision earlier this spring to switch to a new siting process in order to move forward with building its proposed industrial solar plant, Copake officials are now attempting to reach a mutually beneficial understanding between the developer and the town.

As described on the Sensible Solar for Rural New York website, www.sensiblesolarny.com, the project proposed by Hecate Energy entails the construction of “a 360-acre, 60-megawatt solar facility near New York State Route 23, Route 7 and Route 11A in Craryville, a hamlet of Copake, N.Y.” 

After making its initial project presentation to Copake in 2017, Copake town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler said the town didn’t hear from Hecate Energy again until January 2020. 

At that time, she said, Hecate Energy proceeded under Article 10, a process by which it could avoid going to the town for permission to build and instead go a siting board that would decide whether the installation would be allowed. 

Mettler said she, along with the rest of the town, was disturbed the developer tried to skirt not only town processes but also the town law, which prohibits building solar installations of more than 10 acres.

Last spring, the State Legislature passed a law to create the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) process to issue siting permits for renewable energy projects, among other responsibilities. 

This April, Mettler said the town received a letter from Hecate Energy Project Developer Alex Campbell stating Hecate Energy would be switching from Article 10 to “94-c,” a process in which developers can obtain faster and easier approval from the state for large-scale renewable energy projects.

To make matters worse, Mettler said the town discovered New York State exempted ORES from the requisite State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process in its 2021 budget. For years, the SEQRA process typically has required “all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making,” according to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) website. Without going through SEQRA, Mettler said developers will be permitted “faster and easier” approval for their projects.

“Copake is very concerned about the damage to our local environment, to our natural resources, to prime farmland, to wildlife habitat,” Mettler said earlier this spring when Hecate first changed course, adding agriculture and tourism are two main components of Copake’s economy, and that a massive solar farm would be “hugely detrimental” to its environment.

“As much as we absolutely support the governor’s concerns with regards to climate change and we absolutely support his goal of having 70% of New York State energy come from renewable energy by 2030, there are 932 towns in New York State and each town’s share is 6.5 megawatts,” Mettler said, “and when Hecate’s proposing a 60-megawatt process, it’s asking Copake to shoulder 10 times its share of solar energy.”

Although Hecate reduced the project’s acreage from 900 acres to 255 acres, Mettler said the project is still massive considering Copake’s size and not properly scaled. She wants Hecate to speak with the town to find a solution beneficial for both the community and the company.

“The missing piece here is that Hecate Energy has not sat down with the town in a sincere way to find a solution for Hecate, the state and Copake,” said Sensible Solar Co-Founder Darin Johnson, “and that is what the town has asked and Sensible Solar has asked and it has not yet happened… They have not been a good community partner. We don’t trust them. If they want a real presence in the community, then they need to sit down and be a real partner, not just in word.”

On May 21, Mettler said New York State Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106) arranged a site visit in Craryville, during which time representatives from the DEC, ORES and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) toured the area where Hecate wants to build. Following the tour, everyone returned to Copake Town Hall where they discussed their concerns with town officials. 

Ideally, Mettler said the next step should be a meeting between her and Hecate Energy. However, on May 27 Mettler said Hecate responded to requests from the town’s attorney regarding discovery, claiming its requests were unreasonable, premature and not supported by law.

Currently, Copake is attempting to organize another meeting with Hecate Energy, as Mettler said she’s still concerned with the project’s size, siting on prime farmland and its impacts on Copake’s scenic beauty, natural resources, economy and local law.

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