Hecate to reduce project size

A map of the proposed Shepard's Run solar project; the yellow areas denotes the project's total area. Courtesy of Hecate Energy Shepard's Run Solar Farm open house presentation Dec. 2020, slide 17

COPAKE — Hecate Energy, the company behind the proposed Shepherd’s Run solar farm, will reduce the area of the project by 60%, a company official said Wednesday.

Project developer Alex Campbell presented information about the proposed project from the company’s standpoint.

The initial public release noted Hecate was developing a project that would encompass approximately 900 total acres, Campbell said. The proposed project will be cut down to 360 total acres, 280 of which would contain the project’s solar panels.

“This is a complicated project. There are a lot of hills, there’s a lot of wetlands,” Campbell said. “We’ve done our best to try and address the concerns of the town, its citizens and the other groups that have been in contact.”

The proposed project has become a topic of growing interest among local residents and the town of Copake, with hundreds of people submitting letters to the state Department of Public Service, and hundreds attending the online meetings about the project.

The size of the project, its potential impact on wildlife and environment and its potential impact on property values in the town have been among the recurring concerns from local residents, and several local residents have voiced their concern about a lack of transparency about the project from Hecate.

“We went through numerous iterations to get to this design,” Campbell said. “I’m happy to present this to you guys today and have some constructive dialogue about it now that we have our initial design. The real delay is not that I was withholding anything; it was just there was a lot of studies that need to have been completed to understand where we couldn’t put panels and those studies primarily focused on where wetlands exist in the area of Copake where our project is sited.”

Hecate’s initial studies are underway and the company is conducting studies on the project’s potential impacts on any threatened or endangered species, as well as the surrounding wetlands and environment.

A number of local residents concerned about the project started the group Sensible Solar for Rural New York. The group’s change.com petition, called “Stop Hecate Energy from building a 500-acre industrial solar facility in Copake, NY,” has received more than 1,800 signatures.

“Our organization obviously supports solar, anybody who understands the impact of climate change in our country supports solar,” said Darin Johnson, director of Sensible Solar for Rural New York. “However, we think that it has to be done in a thoughtful, strategic, informed way. And I think what is happening in the state is that it’s a little bit like the Wild West. Once the governor advanced his renewable energy goal for the state, both in-state and out-of-state solar companies saw windfall. There’s obviously financial incentives the state has created in order to create solar very quickly. The solar companies looked at a map of the state and saw where all the transfer and power stations are and then went to the largest landowners around there to see if they could cut deals to put solar [there].”

The town of Copake had previously passed a zoning law that would not allow for large-scale projects like the proposed Shepherd’s Run project, Johnson said. In 2017, the town passed a law limiting the size of utility scale solar installations to 10 acres.

“Even though there is a lot of positives about solar energy, there are a lot of unintended consequences that hadn’t really been thought through,” Johnson said. “There is the impact on natural resources, waterways, wildlife, rural views and property values.”

In Wednesday’s meeting Campbell explained New York state has set goals for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act is calling for a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 and a 85% emissions reduction by 2050.

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