Solar suits

Solar projects in Dutchess and Columbia counties have become entangled in legal and regulatory netting that involves a number of issues, including finding a balance between New York state’s decarbonization targets and what residents and towns want in their communities.

In Pine Plains, a group of residents has taken the town to task for granting a special use permit to a New York City group that wants to build a solar plant on farmland near Pulvers Corners. The residents filed their action in New York Supreme Court and the case is set to be heard in Putnam County.

A half-hour’s drive north, in Copake, another project is on ropes. Shepherd’s Run Solar Farm is planned by a Chicago-based firm that wants to build a significantly larger solar facility on farmland along routes 23 and 7. That project is stalled because the company lost control of some the land planned for inclusion from the start, and now the submitted design no longer mirrors real-life feasibility, enabling the town and other residents to enter a motion to quash the project.

Both projects are sited on farmland. One’s fate has landed in New York Supreme Court, the other’s on the desks of an administrative law judge and the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting in Albany.

Both these projects are part of New York state’s plan to achieve 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% emissions-free electricity by 2040. That’s only around the corner, given the way time flies and major construction projects subject to government regulation tend only to crawl along. The goals itself are already aging; they were established by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a landmark bill passed in 2019 by the New York State Legislature.

As of 2020, more than 25% of New York’s electricity generation came from renewable sources, according to the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority. The U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) reports that in 2022, 51% of power generation in the state came from renewable sources like solar and wind as well as nuclear power. The EIA notes that New York consumes less energy per capita than residents in all but one other state, and that per capita energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are “consistently lower than those of any other state in the nation.”

Getting back to Pine Plains and Copake. Pulvers Corners’ case has bounced from one judge to another — five judges recused themselves — but the case will be heard in Putnam County “at a date to be determined.” While the town of Copake has moved to have the Shepherd’s Run project dismissed, others in the rural hamlet support it, citing last summer’s Canadian wildfire smoke and deluges across the region as evidence of a climate crisis that needs to be addressed.

Today’s rural solar projects fall in a crosshair of the New York State Constitution (Article 14, Section 4), which states on the one hand that “the policy of the state shall be to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural lands for the production of food,” and on the other, that this policy “shall include adequate provision for the abatement of air and water pollution.”

In the untangling of these contradictory good intentions, elected judges, volunteer town representatives, state administrators and regular citizens are all playing a part.

Latest News

Banned Book Awards champions children’s right to read
Judy Blume connected digitally at the ceremony and was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
Alexander Wilburn

There can be no question that democratic freedoms are currently being attacked and restricted in the United States, and somehow, children and the information they have access to have been the ongoing targets of attack.

As AP News reported in 2023: “More than 1,200 challenges were compiled in 2022, nearly double the then-record total from 2021 and by far the most since the American Library Association began keeping data 20 years ago.” Conservative groups across the country have become well-organized machines harassing individual public and school librarians with threats of legal and violent action. The message from these groups, often supported by government leaders, is that children should not have access to books — books meant for young readers — that engage with topics of race, gender or sexual identity.

Keep ReadingShow less
Never a secret: The Black wife of a vice president

In a new American biography, Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, a multi-award-winning author and director of the graduate studies history department at Indiana University Bloomington, uncovers the hidden story of the wife of Richard Mentor Johnson, the ninth vice president of the United States, serving under President Martin Van Buren.

“The Vice President’s Black Wife: The Untold Life of Julia Chinn” from Ferris and Ferris explores the lost account of Chinn — a woman with no official portrait, no legal record of her marriage and no surviving letters or diary to expose her own thoughts or feelings. What we do know: Chinn was a Black woman born into slavery in Scott County, Kentucky; trained as a household domestic worker from a young age; and taken as Johnson’s common-law wife as a teenager when Johnson was 15 years her senior. Chinn was never legally freed from slavery, but she would also come to wield significant authority over the management of Johnson’s property, overseeing the slave labor she was born into, now from a position of power.

Keep ReadingShow less
String quartet dazzles Hotchkiss Library

Ivalas String Quartet

Matthew Kreta

The Guild at Hotchkiss Library presented the Ivalas String Quartet in collaboration with Music Mountain Sunday, Feb. 18.

It was immediately apparent that the members of the quartet have a perfect understanding of each other as performers. Comprised of Reuben Kebede and Tiani Butts playing violin, Pedro Sánchez playing cello and Marcus Stevenson playing viola, the quartet would make constant movements, eye contact and audible breathing to guide and communicate with each other. This made their complex program sound effortless, even though their selections certainly sounded difficult to navigate.

Keep ReadingShow less