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Hecate releases benefits package ahead of solar law public hearing

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    A map of Hecate Energy LLC’s 50-megawatt solar farm in Coxsackie.
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    Hecate Energy, LLC, Development Director Gabriel Wapner speaks at a Coxsackie Town Board meeting in May.
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    Coxsackie Town Supervisor Richard Hanse, center, with Town Clerk Bambi Hotaling and Town Councilman Michael Veeder during a May town board meeting.
September 10, 2018 10:05 pm

COXSACKIE — Hecate Energy, LLC, recently announced plans to offer a benefits package up to $6 million for the community, local government and the school district in advance of a public hearing tonight about a proposed solar law in the town.

Hecate wants to build a solar farm of approximately 400 acres. The amount of the proposed benefits would be about 10 times greater than the property tax revenues generated by the land for which the solar farm is proposed, Hecate Development Director Gabriel Wapner said in a Aug. 23 statement.

Hecate has invested $50 million in the project and it will help create 200 jobs during the permitting and construction phase because local firms will be used for engineering, surveying, site preparation and construction. Hecate’s benefits package would produce revenue for the Heermance Memorial Library, fire department and ambulance squad.

“Funding for first responders and the local library would be above and beyond the host-community payments,” Wapner said. “All the energy from the community solar project, which could be built on the American Valve brownfield site, would be provided free of charge to Coxsackie electricity consumers.”

Wapner plans to present the package in some form during tonight’s meeting and while Hecate representatives previously discussed benefits, this package defines them, Wapner said.

“This is a tremendous contribution for a project that uses essentially no municipal resources and is an innocuous project,” Wapner said. “This is an excellent project for everybody.”

Coxsackie Town Supervisor Richard Hanse is skeptical of Hecate’s offer.

“I have yet to see any benefits of it,” Hanse said. “There’s all kind of ways municipalities can make money — we’re not in the business of making money.”

The proposed solar law aims to accommodate solar energy collection systems while balancing potential impact on neighbors and property owners, according to a draft of the proposed law.

The law would set provisions for the placement, design, construction and operation of solar-energy systems consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and ensure there will be no significant impacts on the environment or the town’s aesthetic qualities and character.

The town enacted a moratorium on solar projects to protect the health, safety and welfare of town residents in December and added an additional six months to it in May.

Wapner sent a letter dated Sept. 7 to the Coxsackie Town Board saying a law will make it impossible to construct a large-scale solar project in the town, he said. A law would deprive the area of the economic benefits the project will provide and thwart the state’s goals to derive 50 percent of electric consumption from renewable resources by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent.

“The community would miss out on a great deal of benefits that solar brings,” Wapner said.

Despite the Article 10 law, which supersedes local rule on large-scale utility projects, the wishes and laws of the community are heavily weighted in any decision, Wapner said.

“It’s incredibly comprehensive. There’s a great deal of study and time that goes into it,” Wapner said. “Hecate will look to conform to a zoning ordinance that is reasonable.”

Under the state’s Clean Energy standards, the needs of all state citizens outweigh the potential impacts of a benign utility-scale solar facilities which affects a small number of residents, Wapner wrote in his letter.

Open space exists elsewhere in the state and a project shouldn’t be built close to residents’ homes, Hanse said. He sees the project as less than benign.

“If they were benign, as far as the visual impact, that would be different,” Hanse said. “The visual impact will have a very malignant effect on our town.”

The proposed town law, which covers everything from home solar use to large-scale projects and encourages business owners to put solar panels on the roofs of their businesses for their own use, Hanse said. He worries the presence of multiple panels will bring down home prices.

“I suspect it probably will because home rule has been taken away from us,” Hanse said. “They [Hecate] want us to cry for them and I’m not crying for them.”

Hanse expects a large turnout at the hearing and public comment will shape any revisions to the law.

“The board has to look at the merits of the public comments,” Hanse said. “It’s something only the Lord knows at this point.”

Wapner hopes supporters of the project and those on the fence will come to Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the benefits of the project, he said.

“I think we’ll see a different narrative tomorrow,” he said.