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Here comes the sun farm, if Copake will let it


Local veterinarian and a Chatham grad have big plans for solar venture

COPAKE—On April 13, the same night the Town Board conducts a public hearing and later votes on a proposed law to regulate solar energy systems, it will also hear about a new plan to build two utility-scale projects, each of 150 to 200 acres in size.

Hecate Energy Director of Development Gabriel Wapner and landowner William Rasweiler, DVM, will give a presentation about the projects, which would be situated on about 400 acres of farmland in Craryville.

Dr. Rasweiler said by phone this week that the solar projects will actually allow him to keep the land in the face of rising taxes and improve its now marginal quality by letting it rest for the next 25 to 30 years.

A veterinarian at the Copake Veterinary Hospital for the past 27 years, Dr. Rasweiler owns about 700 acres on the north and south sides of Route 23, east of the Taconic Hills Central School campus and on the east and west sides of County Route 7.

He worked on the land, which was the family beef farm, for several years beginning in the 1970s before moving on to veterinary school. His father, the late Calvin Rasweiler, owned the farm previously. Bruce Conover rents part of the land now for his Sir William Farm beef operation, said Dr. Rasweiler. The rest of the land has been in monoculture—corn—for about the last 80 years, which has depleted the soil.

The path of the ever-lengthening Harlem Valley Rail Trail also crosses the land on its way to Chatham.

Dr. Rasweiler said he believes the projects would be good for the environment and he is willing and able to work with the community to make it a win-win situation. Though he was not aware the town was working on a solar law, Dr. Rasweiler said the town is doing the right thing in setting guidelines for how new solar projects can fit into the community.

He points to the existing solar array field on the north side of Route 23 at the County Route 11A intersection, noting it has no berms, no screening, no setbacks and no provision for erosion control.

His goal is to have projects that benefit the environment and the community and not be an eyesore by mitigating viewshed changes.

All we really want is to be heard, to see if the community wants it or not, to see if we can allow some of our land to be used. If everyone says not in my backyard then nothing will happen,” he said.

Dr. Rasweiler’s plan for an environmentally-friendly project also extends to using no fossil fuels in landscape maintenance. He hopes to pasture sheep in fields where the arrays stand to keep the vegetation nipped instead of using mechanical mowers and also to grow pollinator-friendly plants to give the bee population a boost.

Mr. Wapner told The Columbia Paper this week that the plan is to build two 20-megawatt solar projects which would connect into the existing New York State Electric and Gas Corporation transmission line at the substation which borders the Rasweiler property.

The projects, which total 40MW, would generate enough power for 7,000 homes annually. The company is shooting for a 2019 project completion date. The cost has not been disclosed..

The two projects are in the New York State Independent Operator System (NYSIOS) transmission queue, which puts the projects in line to be studied and eventually connect to the grid. The transmission system highway only holds so much capacity, he explained, and it has to be determined how the projects’ injection of energy will impact the grid. The NYSEG substation has adequate capacity and should not require significant upgrades to accommodate the projects, he said.

Hecate Energy describes itself as “a leading developer, owner, and operator of solar, natural gas, wind, and energy-storage projects.” The company says it “currently manages over 20 operational or late stage development power-generation projects around the globe, including projects in the United States, Canada, Jordan and Tanzania,” according to its website (

The company has contracted with NYSERDA to purchase renewable energy credits for 20 years. For every megawatt hour of generation by solar or wind a certificate is created in a database. On behalf of utilities, NYSERDA purchases renewable energy credits then distributes them to utilities based on annual load. Utilities have to generate a certain percentage of energy from renewable sources, Mr. Wapner said.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s clean energy mandate, which calls for 50% of New York’s electricity to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar by 2030, has been a catalyst for bringing energy developers here. Hecate is currently working on developing projects in Greene and Albany counties as well.

The energy generated by the Rasweiler solar projects could be sold on the open market but what the company would prefer to do is enter into a contract with “an offtaker” to purchase the energy, such as a large company with offices in New York State that is concerned about its energy impact. He mentioned Pepsi, Bloomberg or Goldman Sachs.

Currently based on Chicago, Mr. Wapner is a Chatham High School graduate who said he gradually working his way back to Columbia County. His father is Chatham Town Councilman John Wapner.

We are comfortable with the screening and setbacks required in the proposed solar law. We’re looking for leniency on the size of the project,” he said.

The proposed law “does not support conversion of productive farmland to support utility-scale energy systems” and puts a cap of 10 acres on the amount of land in a farmed parcel within an Agricultural District that a utility-scale solar energy system may occupy.

The public hearing on the new solar system law starts at 6:30 p.m. April 13 at Town Hall. The Rasweiler presentation will take place during the regular meeting which starts at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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