Shepherd’s Run project still facing headwinds

COPAKE — The Shepherd’s Run Solar Farm project faces further review by state officials in Albany following new filings last week from the town of Copake, residents for and against the project and Hecate Energy LLC.

The town is seeking dismissal of the company’s application to build on farmland along routes 23 and 7 based on several developments, principal among them that the company has lost control of land it originally said it needed for a 60-megawatt facility.

The state Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES) staff last month stated:

“Depending on the scope of the changes required, the Office (staff) also observed that the Office could deny a final siting permit if significant changes to the design of a proposed facility were required.”

If revisions to an application were required, ORES determined, such changes could be made: (a) by an applicant by withdrawing and resubmitting the application; or (b) by ORES by reflecting any changes in the final siting permit.

New York’s lofty solar goals

New York state seeks to achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030, a goal established by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a landmark bill passed in 2019 by the New York Legislature. It further aspires to achieve 100% emissions-free electricity by 2040.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her State of the State address last month, announced additional clean energy initiatives, including a proposed Renewable Action Through Project Interconnection and Deployment (RAPID) Act. Chief among provisions of the RAPID Act is a transfer of ORES operations to the state Department of Public Service, which manages transmission siting and planning.

The fight on the ground

Hecate Energy, in recent filings with ORES, argues that the agency’s executive director, Houtan Moaveni, has broad authority to take action in furtherance of the state’s renewable energy goals.

However, the ORES staff, in a response to that statement, noted that such action is “inconsistent with applicable statutory and regulatory authorities, as well as underlying policy.”

Letters filed last week with ORES by residents in the vicinity of the proposed solar farm reflect sentiments on both sides of the issue. Some cited threats to protected wetlands and impacts on summer recreation at Copake Lake as well as property values and the loss of prime farmland.

Another writer expressed concern about the impact on heritage tourism that is fed by the town’s seven historic properties.

Sensible Solar for Rural New York, a coalition of Columbia County citizens opposed to the Shepherd’s Run project, wrote to ORES, “Our response to that is: every developer, especially Hecate, which has misled everyone during this application process, should absolutely have to be held to the rules.”

Other letter writers point to the benefits of solar, and urge ORES to “objectively consider the facts around this project and issue a 94-c Permit to Hecate Energy without applying any burdensome local law or ordinance.”

Section 94-c refers to the state’s renewable energy development program that aims to carry out coordinated and timely reviews of projects by ORES.

Last week in responding to the latest filings by Hecate and the town of Copake, the ORES staff’s conclusion appeared to endorse an approach that would take into consideration Hecate’s plan to redesign the project to a 42MW capacity, with other changes to be considered based on the loss of the 60-acre land parcel.

In its conclusion, ORES staff wrote that “[Administrative Law Judge Maureen]” Leary’s ruling appears to provide for a further process that is consistent with the process contemplated by regulation.”

“Notably, the Applicant has for the first time […] provided details as to how it intends to address the loss of site control of a portion of the Facility site. Based on the Office’s review of such new material, it appears that the loss of site control of a portion of the Facility site may not be dispositive to the final merits of the Application as originally indicated. Thus, […]further review of the scope of the changes contemplated by the Applicant in the issues determination proceeding may be appropriate.”

In short: Copake’s appeal is pending, and the case is in the hands of ORES Executive Director Moaveni.

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