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State orders Hecate to clean up its app., …again

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COPAKE—When it comes to filing its application for permission to construct the Shepherd’s Run 60 MW solar facility, Hecate Energy seems to be doing a less than stellar job.

Also in the past month, a group of 10 citizens who seek to “protect Hudson’s clean drinking water,” have raised the possibility that Hecate’s project puts an “essential water source… at risk.”

In his October 13 update on the controversial industrial scale solar-powered electric generating facility, Copake Deputy Supervisor Richard Wolf reported that the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) had issued Hecate a second “Notice of Incomplete Application” September 27.

ORES is the state agency reviewing Hecate’s application.

The 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.

Hecate filed its initial application with ORES March 8. May 9, ORES issued Hecate its first “Notice of Incomplete Application” and presented the developer with a 20-page list of additional information that must be submitted before the agency determines whether the Shepherd’s Run application is complete. Despite Hecate’s additional submissions, ORES has now issued a second notice of incompleteness and a 17-page to-do-list detailing what Hecate must submit to address deficiencies.

“So, two years and nine months into its efforts to get the state’s approval to build a large solar energy facility in Craryville, Hecate has again been told that its application requires considerably more work: internal inconsistencies need to be explained and resolved and vague summary claims need to be replaced by clear, data-supported statements capable of analysis and verification by ORES’ staff. Only then can ORES ‘complete its review and make a recommendation to approve or deny the requested Siting Permit,’” according to Mr. Wolf.

Asked to comment on Hecate’s second incomplete notice, Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell told The Columbia Paper by email, “The 94c permitting process, run through the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), is an incredibly rigorous and thorough regulatory process. Hecate and its team of consultants continue to refine the project in an effort to fulfill the 94c regulatory requirements and integrate the Working Group’s suggested improvements.”

In his report, Mr. Wolf sites an example of Hecate’s “lack of specificity” in its application as related to Hecate’s unwillingness to incorporate most of the ad hoc Working Group’s recommendations into the Shepherd’s Run application. 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.”

According to Mr. Wolf, among the recommendations that Hecate has not included in its application are: “the creation of a 300-acre community-accessible green space to protect view sheds, effectively screen many of the solar arrays from nearby homes, and offer nature walks and bicycling trails to Copakeans and visitors. Hecate refuses to adopt this visionary recommendation, which could turn Shepherd’s Run from an eyesore into a tourist attraction. Hecate also refuses to provide financial compensation for homeowners with properties that would be most directly and adversely impacted by Shepherd’s Run.”

Mr. Wolf said subsequent to the second incomplete notice, “ORES is requiring Hecate to provide much more information about Shepherd’s Run’s likely impact on view sheds, and is requiring visual simulations of view points that the Town Board has long requested of Hecate.”

But the idea that Hecate “refuses” to include the Working Group’s recommendations is debated by Mr. Campbell, who told The Columbia Paper back in July, that “the Working Group and Hecate are working on implementing their recommendations to the project.”

In an email response to a Columbia Paper question about the frequency of Working Group/Hecate meetings and “where do the talks about incorporating the Working Group’s suggestions stand?,” Friends of Copake Solar member Dan Haas confirmed he is a member of the Working Group 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.”

In a response by phone, Working Group and Sensible Solar for Rural New York member Meredith Kane said that while the Working Group’s recommendations are not yet part of Hecate’s official application, Hecate and the Working Group are making progress on negotiating a separate “Host Community Benefit Agreement.”

She clarified in a subsequent email that 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.”

In another recent Shepherd’s Run solar project matter, 10 citizens sent an open letter dated September 29, to City of Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson and Columbia County Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Matt B. Murell about the need to protect the Taghkanic Headwaters and the drinking water supply for the residents of the City of Hudson and Columbia County.

The letter refers to the Taghkanic Headwaters Conservation Plan, recently announced by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) commissioner.

“The Plan maps five areas of exceptional importance including the Taghkanic Creek which supplies drinking water for the City of Hudson and other residents of Columbia County.”

The letter says Hecate Energy’s proposed Shepherd’s Run solar project puts “this essential water source is at risk.”

Twenty-one wetlands (159.53 acres) are in the Project Area, and 17 streams, 9 of which are state protected streams including the Taghkanic Creek.

“Construction of a project on this scale could adversely impact drinking water for the City of Hudson. Significant concerns include:

• The boring of underground electrical lines under NYS Protected Waterbody Crossings

• Excavation and grading near NYS Protected Waterbodies

• Clearing of 40 acres of forest

• Oil in large transformers requiring a spill containment plan

• Steep slope erosion

• Road construction.”

The letter says, Hecate’s application contains many disturbing statements which describe the construction process which will take place over 9 to 12 months.

Among the concerns the letter writers site is: “HDD [Horizontal Directional Drilling] boring methods are proposed for burying electrical lines under NYS protected waterbody crossings [which we assume is the Taghkanic Creek]. A total of five streams are being crossed using HDD boring, and one stream is having trees cleared from its banks.”

The letter notes “the importance of protecting the drinking water supply to the citizens of Hudson and Columbia County, we should not rely on a private developer’s assurances when no independent oversight is in place.”

It says, “The risks are too great here,” and encourages Mayor Johnson and Supervisor Murell to contact state officials to express concerns about this large scale construction, and support the DEC’s Plan for protecting the Taghkanic Headwaters, and thereby protecting the drinking water supply…”

The plan may be read online at: taghkanicheadwaters.org/the-conservation-plan.

At its October 13 meeting, the Copake Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution urging ORES to continue to deem Hecate’s application incomplete unless Hecate can “provide evidence that the construction of Shepherd’s Run, and once constructed the presence of Shepherd’s Run, will not negatively impact the Taghkanic Creek Watershed or the water quality in the City of Hudson or any other Columbia County town.”

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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