COPAKE—Hecate Energy is reportedly in the process of further shrinking its proposed industrial-sized solar facility in Craryville.
At the same time, the Town of Copake has taken legal action to throw a monkeywrench into the application process Hecate is using to get its project approved in violation of town zoning law.
Copake became the lead petitioner in a lawsuit challenging the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), June 29. Donors from across the state are paying for the litigation and the town will not pay any legal fees or expenses for its participation.
Copake has joined with other plaintiffs: the towns of Yates, Farmersville, Cambria, Malone and Somerset; Cambria Opposition to Industrial Solar, Inc., Save Ontario Shores, Inc., American Bird Conservancy, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, Genesee Valley Audubon Society, Clear Skies Above Barre, Inc. and the Rochester Birding Association.
This group of Upstate towns and public interest organizations is suing because they say they are at risk of being adversely affected by existing and proposed permit applications in front of ORES.
Filed in Albany County Supreme Court, the suit seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction “to invalidate the ORES regulations, and to require ORES to adopt new regulations based on performance of a full environmental impact statement studying the environmental effects that could result statewide from ORES permits for large-scale renewable energy installations,” according to a press release.
The suit also seeks an order redirecting all current and potential ORES applications to the existing state Siting Board for review of applications under Article 10 of the Public Service Law. That route is an established process for reviewing, mitigating, and avoiding the environmental impacts of renewable energy projects.
‘We have been told that Hecate is in the process of revising its plan.’
Councilman Richard Wolf
Copake deputy supervisor
The shift “will allow the state to continue working towards its renewable energy goals while ORES takes the time it needs to create new, more protective regulations.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Hecate Energy is a developer of solar and wind facilities, along with energy storage projects.
The firm had initially applied for its proposed 60-megawatt, Shepherd’s Run solar facility under the longstanding state siting approval process, known as Article 10, then switched earlier this month to the new, fast-track Section 94-c permission process.
“We are proud to stand with other rural towns in challenging the 94-c regulations. While we recognize the challenge of climate change, the challenge to the State was to confront the climate crisis in a way which would protect rural New York. We are outraged that the State of New York has accelerated the permitting process for industrial scale power facilities without regard to the impact of these projects on rural towns. In failing to comply with SEQRA [State Environmental Quality Review Act] they showed disregard if not contempt for the rural landscapes, prime farmland and, woodlands which we treasure,” Copake Supervisor Jeanne E. Mettler said in a press release.
“In Copake … you cannot put a shovel in the ground without the Planning Board demanding a SEQRA review. It is therefore stunning to think that the State will allow the installation of a solar project spanning over 250 acres, without SEQRA review” she said.
Asked for a comment on the ORES lawsuit, Friends of Columbia Solar’s Dan Haas told The Columbia Paper this week, “Friends of Columbia Solar is deeply disappointed by the town’s decision to join a lawsuit that could threaten the foundations of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the law that gives New York hope of staving off the worst effects of the climate crisis. We continue to believe that a compromise is possible that will satisfy all sides and allow Shepherd’s Run to go forward. We continue to believe that projects such as Shepherd’s Run represent the real climate action that in 2021 is so desperately needed. Research shows that by 2040 the state will need—even if we cover half the rooftops in New York with solar—1,000 facilities the size of Shepherd’s Run. Let’s get started.”
In a statement on the lawsuit, Sensible Solar for Rural New York Spokesman Darin Johnson said, “Sensible Solar applauds the Town of Copake and the other rural municipalities and environmental organizations who are challenging New York State’s ill-conceived 94-c permitting process for utility-scale solar and wind developments. It’s widely known that the 94-c implement regulations were written by the solar lobby and now exempt these large renewable energy projects from environmental review. Protecting New York State’s rural communities and their natural resources, farmland and agriculture and tourism-dependent economies must be given equal consideration to combating climate change as both are necessary for ensuring a healthy future for rural New York.”
In his July 17 Hecate update report at the Copake Town Board meeting, Deputy Supervisor/Councilman Richard Wolf said he and Supervisor Mettler met with Hecate Partner and Chief Strategy Officer David Wilhelm, Senior Vice President of Environmental and Permitting Diane Sullivan, and Shepherd’s Run Project Manager Alex Campbell, June 17.
During that meeting Ms. Mettler and Mr. Wolf “reiterated the town’s two primary objections to the project as currently proposed: (1) it is too big for Copake, and (2) the proposed siting is no good,” Mr. Wolf reported, adding that “although the meeting failed to produce new ideas or tangible progress, we have been told that Hecate is in the process of revising its plan for Shepherd’s Run, and that it will present a new plan to us when it is ready. We do not know when that will be, but we look forward to seeing the revised plan, and to further discussions with Hecate representatives.”
Asked about what the project changes are and when they would be made public, Project Manager Campbell responded by email, “Hecate continues to work diligently to refine and improve the Shepherd’s Run project. When we began, the project encompassed 480 acres inside the fence. Through our attendance at town meetings, through virtual informational open houses, one-on-one meetings, emails and other venues, we have collected feedback from across the county and made substantive changes to improve the project in response to this feedback. The current size of the project is 255 acres inside the fence, a 47% reduction. In addition, we improved the project by adding pollinator planting plans with apiaries, creating a robust landscaping plan and removing the battery storage option of the project. We are proud of this project for doing something meaningful to address the climate change crisis that threatens to impact all of us. When this project is certified and constructed, we think the vast majority of the citizens of Columbia County will agree with us and will take pride in their county making a difference.”
Mr. Campbell said, “Hecate has no comment on the town’s decision to file a lawsuit against ORES and the New York State Department of State.”
In one final note on the lawsuit, Mr. Johnson said by phone, that ORES has 30 days or until August 7 to provide its formal answer to the court. He said ongoing negotiations between the legal team representing the plaintiffs and the State Attorney General’s Office could delay that answer.
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