COPAKE — Justices of the Third Department state Appellate Court have upheld a lower court ruling to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting seeking to discard some regulations for approving large solar farms including the proposed Shepherd’s Run project in the town of Copake.
The town was one of 13 municipalities, environmental groups and conservation organizations that filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court of Albany County in June 2021 against the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting, or ORES, challenging the fast-track siting process for industrial solar and wind facilities.
The lawsuit asserted that the siting process conducted by ORES violated the state Environmental Quality Review Act. The review requires all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors when they assess the environmental significance of all actions they have the discretion to fund, approve or directly undertake.
Shepherd’s Run has drawn heavy criticism at various times from Copake and other Columbia County municipalities for the project’s size, developer Hecate Energy’s ignorance of home rule, the threat posed to farmland and its impacts on the viewshed and property values. In 2021 Hecate reduced the size of the proposed facility to 60 acres.
The appellate justices decided that ORES’s regulations setting standard uniform conditions to all renewable energy projects in the state override local home rule law.
“ORES published notices respecting the proposed rulemaking, held public hearings, solicited public comments and reviewed such,” according to court papers. “Although the siting of renewable energy facilities was exempt from SEQRA review, because regulation promulgation requires a SEQRA review, ORES conducted such. Thereafter, ORES designated the action as unlisted pursuant to SEQRA and issued a short environmental assessment form. After concluding that the regulations themselves would not cause significant adverse impacts, ORES issued a negative declaration and did not prepare an environmental impact statement.”
“Petitioners’ argument...and its progeny, lacks merit as it is based upon their incorrect characterization that the waiver provision ‘impliedly preempts all local laws,” the justices concluded in court papers.
Gary A. Abraham of Great Valley, N.Y., near Syracuse, an attorney for the plaintiffs, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. It was not immediately known if the town of Copake will appeal the decision in the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
The suit alleged that ORES’s failure to acknowledge its regulations for siting power plants could result in “even one significant adverse environmental impact and that the siting office failed to prepare an environmental impact statement.
The Copake Town Board and the Columbia County Board of Supervisors unanimously opposed Shepherd’s Run. Several Columbia County municipalities, including the city of Hudson, followed by passing individual resolutions opposing the project. The Hudson Common Council adopted its measure in February.
Hudson’s resolution sought proof from Hecate that the project would not adversely affect the Taghkanic Creek Watershed, which supplies the city with water. The towns of Claverack, Hillsdale and Taghkanic passed similar resolutions.
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Reduced to sixty acres or six hundred?
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