Solar farm siting process pits residents against renewables

Columbia County
Solar panels (Zbynek Burival / Unsplash)

Solar panels (Zbynek Burival / Unsplash)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Some lawmakers and advocates in Columbia County are pushing back against local plans for a solar farm. They claim that Hecate Energy—the group behind the proposed Shepherd’s Run solar farm—steamrolled the town of Copake and its residents by moving forward with an expedited state siting process.

The advocacy group Sensible Solar for Rural New York released a statement calling out Hecate’s actions, which they say violate Copake’s local permit laws. They also say there is widespread community opposition to the project because it “will devastate more than 250 acres of natural landscape and farmland in Copake and Craryville.”

“The thinly-veiled smoked screen has cleared, and Hecate Energy has emerged as the greedy, out-of-state company with no care, regard or respect for our rural community. Despite the empty words and gestures over the past year, we were hopeful. But now Hecate Energy has blown past any sincere opportunity to enter into discussions with the Town and its people. They are making the concerted choice to further by-pass the community by electing to engage in an expedited process that provides no balance of power to the local community disrupted by the project,” said Darin Johnson, a representative with Sensible Solar for Rural New York. “New York State is facing a looming crisis with developers being empowered and emboldened to enter our communities with absolutely no incentive to work with town or community members. Action must be taken immediately to prevent our rural communities from becoming the ‘Wild West’ of energy sites. This cannot be the beginning of the end for rural communities—like Copake—across New York.”

Sensible Solar says that in 2017, Copake prohibited industrial solar energy systems in order to protect natural resources, farmland, wildlife, rural viewsheds, property values, agriculture, tourism, and, ultimately, the local economy. They say Shepherd’s Run would violate those zoning laws, and that Hecate Energy is interested in profits rather than in working with the community.

In 2020, New York’s Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act was meant to fast-track siting for proposed large-scale, renewable energy projects over 25 megawatts, allowing them to opt-in to a new siting process under certain conditions. Now, Sensible Solar says Hecate Energy can determine which siting process to proceed with, violating “home rule” by expediting the bypass of local zoning laws with New York State.

New York State Sen. Daphne Jordan (R-Halfmoon) has added her voice against the solar farm. In a written statement, she said:

“For months, I’ve stood with community residents, Copake Supervisor Mettler, and Sensible Solar in expressing my many serious concerns about Hecate Energy’s proposed massive project and its potential negative impact on the Town’s special quality of life. I’ve been critical of the project’s continued failure to respect and recognize local Home Rule and include proper protection provisions for local farmland. Some of the other specific reservations that I have include Hecate Energy not committing to proposing and assessing alternative facility layouts, its proposed project area showing five times more land area than was needed, and lack of a clear commitment to evaluating the project’s expected impact on the community’s character and consistency with the planning objectives set forth in the local comprehensive and farmland protection plans. It’s for all of these reasons that I urged the NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment to deny Hecate Energy a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need in my official public comment submitted back on February 11, 2021. It is simply unacceptable for Hecate Energy to try and utilize the State’s Expedited Energy Siting Process as an attempted end run around local Home Rule and local siting ordinances. I’m hopeful that Hecate Energy will stop these misguided efforts and finally recognize the strong local opposition to their proposed project and work with the Town and all local stakeholders on a new proposal that addresses local concerns, protects the local character, and respects local Home Rule.”

Hecate Energy did not respond to NEWS10’s request for comment.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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