COPAKE — The town of Copake is considering filing a lawsuit potentially accusing the Office of Renewable Energy Siting of using regulations that violate state law related to the proposed Shepherd’s Run solar project.
The town board unanimously passed a resolution Thursday night which would allow the town to engage in litigation against the Siting Office.
Copake would join several other petitioners in challenging the regulations from the Siting Office, said attorney Benjamin E. Wisniewski, who has been retained by the town in regard to the solar project.
“In light of Hecate’s intention to seek a permit from the Office of Renewable Energy Siting, the town board should be aware that the ORES process is currently using regulations that I believe are flawed, and that could violate numerous previsions of state law,” Wisniewski said.
Wisniewski advised the town board to authorize the law firm to investigate and commence litigation against the Siting Office “to ensure ORES takes a hard look at renewable energy projects as required by SEQR and to protect the town against the flawed ORES approval process.”
“We’re certainly not breaking the law,” said Hecate Project Developer Alex Campbell. “We received a request from the town to submit the entire application to them for the pre-application meeting, before it’s ready. That’s impossible, there’s certain things that we don’t have prepared for the application that they want in order to have the pre-application meeting. It’s a way to stall the project.”
A letter is being sent to the Town of Copake either Friday or Saturday. Campbell said. The letter will communicate that Hecate is willing to provide a presentation on the things that are not completed yet which the town has requested, and give the status on where Hecate is on those items. He said Hecate is planning on having a visual workshop in July with key stakeholders.
“Because of the visual screening workshop, we’re not going to be able to file on that date which we had listed in the Notice of Intent to file,” Campbell said. “These things are getting pushed because we’re getting requests from stakeholders, the town, others to do these things that we’re willing to do.”
The notices which were sent from Hecate to residents which were noted in the town board meeting Thursday were Notices of Intent, Campbell said. He added there is no hard and fast date. “We’re going above and beyond on all counts for the things we are providing the town for the pre-application meeting, we’ve noted this over email and we’ve done this on other occasions as well regarding the permit process,” Campbell said. “It’s the same rhetoric, it’s the same type of thing, they present things to the public that don’t tell the whole picture and unfortunately it influences a lot of opinions. We’re just trying to do what’s right in the eyes of the town.”
The proposed 60-megawatt, 255-acre solar project has become a highly debated topic in the town, largely because of a zoning law that limits the size of solar projects to no more than 10 acres.
“Recently, some Copake residents have themselves reported receiving from Hecate, the Chicago-based energy company, its notice of intent to file an application for siting approval for the proposed Shepherd’s Run industrial-sized power plant,” Deputy Town Supervisor Richard Wolf said. “In the notice Hecate says it intends to file its application with the New Office of Renewable Energy Siting, or ORES, on or about July 15.”
Regulations from ORES require Hecate to have two meetings at least 60 days prior to filing, one with the town’s chief executive and one with the community.
“ORES’s newly enacted regulations pay lip service to Copake and other host communities — there’s an ironic term,” Wolf said. “By requiring that a project developer must have a substantive meeting with the chief executive of the town, Jeanne Mettler in this case, at least 60 days before a siting permit application can be filed with ORES.”
The Siting Office regulations require Hecate to meet with the town executive and outline the following said Wolf, describe the facility and the environment into which it would be constructed, provide a detailed map showing where each of the power plant components would be placed (panels, inverters, additional substations access roads, transmission lines, etc.), summarize Copake’s laws governing the construction, operation maintenance and decommission of the proposed power plant, list those laws for which it will ask the Siting Office to rule that Hecate may ignore them because they would be considered unreasonably burdensome, identify all of the things Hecate has done to comply with Copake’s laws (design changes or otherwise) and consult with the town to identify potential impacts of the proposed industrial power plant on Craryville and Copake, such as transportation or visual resources.
“This meeting is important because it’s supposed to be substantive,” Wolf said. “And Hecate is supposed to meet to share the required detailed information with Copake at least 60 days before the application gets filed, but Hecate in this notice says it intends to file on or about July 15, that’s 35 days from now. And there’s still been no meeting.”
The Siting Office also requires a community meeting after the required meeting with the executive of the town, and 60 days prior to filing.
“If Hecate goes ahead and attempts to file an application without the two mandated meetings, it’s the town’s position that by its own regulation, ORES may not accept the application,” Wolf said. “This could be an early test of ORES’ objectivity. We’ll continue to monitor developments and keep everyone posted.”
The potential litigation would not cost the town of Copake, as the town would be one of the petitioners challenging the Siting Office’s regulations, Town Supervisor Jeanne Mettler said.