COPAKE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — A proposed solar farm project is in jeopardy in Columbia County. On Wednesday, May 12, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed “A Resolution Opposing the Construction of the Shepherd’s Run Solar Project in the Town of Copake.” Some solar advocates, on the other hand, say that the board is trying to undermine New York’s landmark Climate Act.
The resolution from the Board of Supervisors is available online. It cites an expected slew of negative effects on local property values, the Copake Lake Watershed, endangered wildlife, and prime farmland. It also says that the project is trying to skirt a local ordinance limiting the size of a solar farm to 10 acres.
“I am very grateful for the Board of Supervisors’ support of Copake and their strong opposition to both the project as currently envisioned and the violation of Home Rule which recent legislation represents,” said Jeanne Mettler, Copake Town Supervisor, in a statement last week. “I know that my fellow Supervisors support renewable energy, but they also support preservation of Home Rule, due process, and our local environment. The legislation passed in New York State in the past month which exempts 94-c from SEQRA review is a travesty.”
Sensible Solar is a local group that’s against Shepherd’s Run. They say the solar farm is proposed by an out-of-state company, Hecate Energy, that’s acting in bad faith.
In a statement from Darin Johnson of Sensible Solar for Rural New York he said:
“We all know we have to properly transition our energy industry, but we only have one chance to get the siting of renewable energy projects right. One industry cannot come at the expense of another, and right now solar projects are consuming viable agriculture land. We are advocating for thoughtful planning and siting of solar facilities, designed to preserve prime farm soils, protect woodlands, wetlands and wildlife, and safeguard rural viewsheds and economies. On top of that, any project must comply with local zoning laws and respect the comprehensive, economic development and farmland protection plans of rural New York communities. This can all be done while meeting New York’s renewable energy goals, but local communities must have a say.”
Friends of Columbia Solar is a local group that’s in favor of the project. They say that the issue isn’t about a corporate developer steamrolling a small town. They say they denounce the resolution and the opposition to the project. They’re citing research from UAlbany, which indicates that New York’s goal of decarbonizing by 2050—an international target required by the Paris Agreement—is unreachable without hundreds of large-scale rural solar farms.
“To meet the bulk of existing and new electric demand (transportation, heat) we need to build 210 gigwatts—approximately 350 square miles—of solar panels in the next three decades,” said Dr. Richard Perez, a senior researcher at UAlbany’s Atmospheric Science Center. “There are 30 square miles of landfills and mining exclusion zones, and 25 square miles of parking lots in New York that could be tapped for this. If we cover every other building in the state with solar panels, that’s another 190 square miles. But that still leaves us with 60 gigawatts of solar power to produce, which is equivalent to one thousand 60 megawatt solar farms like Shepherd’s Run. That would occupy less than 1% of the State’s farmed land.”
“Building responsibly sited large-scale solar projects like Shepard’s Run is critical to meeting our New York State climate mandate of 70% renewable electricity generation by 2030. We only have 9 years to achieve this,” said Betta Broad from New Yorkers for Clean Power, a non-profit advocating for renewable energy throughout the state. “And communities like Copake can benefit from these projects in the form of lower taxes, cheaper power, and restored farmland.”
The pro-solar group says that Copake passed the law prohibiting solar farms larger than 10 acres only after learning of Hecate Energy’s interest in the town. They say it’s impossible to meet the challenges of climate change when local leaders pass zoning laws like Home Rule that block potential solutions.
“Local, county, and state elected officials are content to pay lip service to fighting the ‘existential risk’ of climate change, while working to undermine real solutions now that they have skin in the game,” said Juan-Pablo Velez, co-founder of Friends of Columbia Solar.
You can visit the grassroots advocacy group’s website for their perspective, including detailed debunking of claims made against the Shepherd’s Run solar project.