Audience sees solar project overview

A portion of the site where the Shepherd’s Run Solar Farm would be constructed. Contributed photo

COPAKE — Hecate Energy, the developer behind the proposed Shepherd’s Run solar farm in Copake, held two open house sessions Wednesday about the project.

The proposed 360-acre, 60-megawatt solar project has become a contentious topic over the past several months.

The project has been hit with criticism from some local residents and officials because of its size and its possible impact on the environment around it, and it has run afoul of Copake’s zoning law that limits the size of these types of projects to 10 acres.

During Wednesday’s early virtual open house, an overview of the project was shown to an audience of nearly 90 people. Hecate Energy Project Developer Alex Campbell displayed a map of the proposed project where he highlighted its location and where changes have previously been made to the plan to remove a portion of the panels.

“Some of the things that have come out recently are important, and I think we’re all on the same page that we are in a climate dilemma,” Campbell said. “And we really don’t have time to try and find new solutions, or create a new technology we need to do anything and everything we can to try and combat climate change and this project is a big, big step forward for Columbia County and is a big, big step forward for New York’s goals.”

The real focus of the presentation today is to walk through the visual improvements that have been made over the last four to five months, based on feedback from the community Campbell said.

At the earlier virtual open house Wednesday, Hecate Energy Project Developer Alex Campbell said Hecate is working with Pollinator Partnerships to create a pollinator habitat within the solar array of the Shepherd’s Run project space. This means there would be native grasses and plants incorporated into the space to attract pollinators such as birds, bats, bees and butterflies.

Elizzabeth Kaufman from Pollinator Partnerships talked about the benefits of creating a pollinator habitat. She said it takes from three to five years to fully develop a “deep-root” system and establish a self-sustaining community and she said no two projects are the same.

Another presentation covered visual buffers and screening. A conceptual visualization of the proposed solar facility showed a row of trees, landscaping and deciduous shrubs after five years of growth which would provide potential screening of the solar panels.

Campbell gave an overview of anticipated schedules for the project moving forward. He said Hecate expects to submit their full application to the Office of Renewable Energy Siting on July 15, with the application deemed compliant in the fourth quarter of 2021.

He said then a decision about the application would be made by ORES in the fourth quarter of 2022. If Hecate can move forward, Campbell estimated construction on the project could start in the first quarter of 2023, and that they could begin facility operation in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Hecate’s recent announcement about the project’s siting process was also discussed. Last week Hecate announced it would be moving forward with the state’s new siting process called 94-C.

New York state allowed for projects in the first phases of development to either opt into 94-C, which all new projects will be using, or to continue to follow the previous siting process, known as Article 10. In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the new regulations were adopted by the state to dramatically accelerate siting and construction of major renewable energy facilities across the state.

The new law established the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting to consolidate review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities in a single forum. Opportunities exist for local input and that “no application will be deemed complete without proof of consultation with the host community regarding procedural and substantive requirements of applicable local laws,” according to the website. The Siting Office is required to consider any applicable local law when making a determination.

“Just for context the entire article 10 process from 2012 to today has yielded 13 certificates,” Campbell said.

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