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State says Hecate not done yet

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COPAKE—Hecate Energy’s application for a 60 megawatt (MW) industrial scale solar facility called Shepherd’s Run in this small rural town still remains incomplete, according to Deputy Copake Supervisor Richard Wolf.

Additionally, last month, Hecate sent out a “Dear Copake Neighbor” letter which attempts to paint Hecate as a community partner, he said.

In his monthly solar project update at the July 14 Town Board meeting, Councilman Wolf, the town’s point-man on all things Hecate, recounted that May 9 the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) issued Hecate a Notice of Incomplete Application, and presented the developer with a 20-page list of additional information Hecate must submit for ORES’ review before it determines whether the Shepherd’s Run application is complete.

A week prior, on May 2, the ad hoc Working Group pointed out to ORES that the application Hecate had filed was missing important, required information. Hecate responded to the Working Group’s complaint by submitting 84 additional items to be filed with the ORES application. “Even this wasn’t enough,” Mr Wolf wrote.

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.”

On March 8 Hecate Energy, a Chicago-based developer of solar and wind facilities and energy storage projects, filed its application for the controversial Shepherd’s Run Solar Facility proposed for several sites along State Route 23 and County Route 7 in and around the Copake hamlet of Craryville.

Hecate proposes to build a solar-powered electric generating facility with 200,000 solar panels east of the Taconic Hills School District and north of Copake Lake. The solar panels will be erected on 228 acres of an 880-acre total project area. Much of the acreage is prime agricultural land. A school district 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 report, Mr. Wolf noted, “Unfortunately, we have little reason to believe that ORES will balance the state’s renewable energy goals with the adverse impacts of a utility-size power plant on the character and environment of Copake. Under New York law, ORES can override the requirements and objectives [of] Copake’s Zoning Code, Farmland Protection Law and Comprehensive Plan if their provisions are ‘unduly burdensome.’ Given its decisions in other cases, we are very concerned that ORES will waive Copake’s local laws based solely on Hecate’s request and representations, and without even considering what the town has to say—namely, that our local laws are critical to protecting Copake’s rural and agricultural character.”

Some of Hecate’s representations that are concerning to the town may be found in a June 21 “Dear Copake Neighbor” letter, which Mr. Wolf described as containing “exaggerated” and “alternative facts.”

Signed by Hecate Energy Project Developer Alex Campbell, the letter thanks Copake residents and other stakeholders who have provided feedback on the proposed solar project. “Many comments have allowed us to better tailor this individual project to the community.”

In a February 8 formal presentation to Hecate’s team the Working Group made a list of recommendations for how Hecate “can do better by Copake.”

The Hecate letter lists some of them along with the affirmative steps Hecate has either already taken, or will commit to take to integrate these improvements into the project’s development plans.

Councilman Wolf said in his report that the letter “ticks off a short list of actual project improvements: reducing the size from 480 to 220 acres ‘inside the fence’ (it’s actually 228 acres and a total of 255 acres that will be permanently disturbed by the project); eliminating battery storage; and using wildlife-friendly fencing instead of chain-link fencing. Indeed, a reader could well believe that Hecate, Copake and the Working Group are largely in agreement, working together in Kumbaya-like harmony.”

He noted that the Working Group “worked very hard and made a series of smart, forward-thinking recommendations to improve Shepherd’s Run. Contrary to Hecate’s claims, it has not integrated most of the recommendations into its still-incomplete application. Our attorneys conducted a comprehensive review of Hecate’s application and submitted to ORES and Hecate the results, which clearly demonstrate that Hecate has chosen not to adopt the vast majority of the recommendations.”

As two examples, Mr. Wolf notes that “one of the Working Group’s truly visionary recommendations called for the creation of a 300-acre community-accessible Greenspace to screen many of the solar arrays and turn Shepherd’s Run from an eyesore into a tourist attraction. This recommendation is not included in Hecate’s application.

“Also, the Working Group recommended financial compensation for homeowners with properties that would be most directly impacted by Shepherd’s Run. This too is missing from Hecate’s application.”

In a letter attached to the “Dear Copake Neighbor” letter, this one written by Hecate’s attorneys, Foley Hoag LLP, to ORES, attorneys refer to the Town of Copake’s “analysis of whether Hecate has meaningfully responded to the [Working Group’s] recommendations and requested that ORES ‘not deem Hecate’s application complete until the [Working Group’s] recommendations are fully incorporated into the project.’”

Hecate attorneys write that “ORES should disregard Copake’s communication to Governor Hochul; such a lobbying communication, including a request that the governor herself intervene in ORES’ consideration of the [Hecate] application and attempt to influence ORES through a political appeal, is not properly a part of the record of this proceeding.”

The statement drew a comment from Copake Lake resident Lindsay LeBrecht at the July 14 meeting. She expressed her anger at Hecate, calling the comment “hurtful and disgraceful,” noting, “We have every right to write a letter to the governor.”

Though Project Developer Campbell had no comment on Ms. LeBrecht’s statement, he did say by phone this week that, “Hecate has publicly committed to implement the vast majority of the Working Group’s Copake Gateway recommendations.” He refers everyone to the website shepherdsrunsolar.com to read about Hecate/Working Group discussions.

Despite Mr. Wolf’s report, Mr. Campbell said, “The Working Group and Hecate are working on implementing their recommendations to the project.”

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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