COPAKE—Hecate Energy must submit a long list of additional information before its application for a 60 megawatt (MW) industrial scale solar facility can be deemed complete.
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.
The submission of the application with the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) set in motion a 60-day clock by the end of which ORES will have reviewed the application and determined its completeness and define deficiencies, if any.
In his monthly update about the project to the Copake Town Board Deputy Supervisor Richard Wolf reported that “May 9, 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.”
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.
‘With actions like these, ORES creates the appearance of pro-developer, anti-town bias.’
Dpty. Supervisor Richard Wolf
Copake Town Board
The notice from ORES came after the ad hoc Working Group pointed out to ORES that Hecate’s application was missing lots of critical, required information, May 2. 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.”
Representatives from the Columbia Land Conservancy (CLC), Scenic Hudson, Friends of Columbia Solar and Sensible Solar for Rural New York were all part of the Working Group, which gathered public feedback on the project during 2021. The group also worked with advisors: Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th), American Farmland Trust, Cornell University—College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, landscape architects and the Rheinstrom Hill Audubon Sanctuary, which the Hecate project abuts.
“The Group worked very hard, made a series of smart, forward-thinking recommendations to improve Shepherd’s Run,” Mr. Wolf noted.
Two days after the Working Group’s notification to ORES, Hecate responded by submitting 84 additional items to be filed with the application. Despite that, ORES still wants more.
Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell did not respond by press deadline to an email request for comment on the recent incomplete notice from ORES. But back in March he told The Columbia Paper that Hecate had already integrated “the vast majority of the Working Group’s suggestions… into the project’s application/design.”
The Working Group and the town’s attorney in the Hecate matter Benjamin Wisniewski found that was not the case. Apparently ORES agreed.
In his report, Deputy Supervisor Wolf said the town’s attorney submitted an April 14 letter to ORES, “presenting our analysis and findings that Hecate in fact had not included the proposed improvements into the Shepherd’s Run application it filed with ORES. We urged ORES to not consider Hecate’s application complete until it included them.”
Hecate’s lawyers responded with an April 21 letter to ORES, urging it to “disregard the town’s letter (and also one submitted by the Working Group) because the ORES regulations don’t specifically provide for comments regarding the completeness of a siting application.”
Mr. Wolf said ORES “refused to include our letter (or the Working Group’s) in the ‘Filed Documents’ section of the official record. Instead, it buried our analysis deep in the middle of the ‘Public Comments’ that ORES ‘accepts,’ but may not even review.”
Yet ORES included Hecate’s letter with the case’s official documents file.
“Two letters on the same subject: Hecate’s letter commenting on our letter: in! Copake’s letter—the one Hecate was commenting on—out!
“With actions like these, ORES creates the appearance of pro-developer, anti-town bias,” noted Mr. Wolf.
Commenting on the incomplete notice, Copake Supervisor told The Columbia Paper this week by email: “We would like to think that ORES’ refusal to mark the application complete indicates that they are really taking a hard look at Hecate’s application and considering the very comprehensive recommendations of the Working Group.
“The State has insisted that the 94-c process will take into consideration the input of the community. We have always been skeptical about how that would work. So let’s see if ORES really listens to the concerns of the Town and the Working Group.”
Hecate now has an unspecified amount of time to come up with the additional required information.
When and/or if ORES deems the Hecate application complete, a 12-month review process involving “full public engagement” opens, Mr. Campbell said in a phone interview with The Columbia Paper in March.
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