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Senators say solar proposal threatens Copake farmland

Aug 30, 2023

Two state senators say a proposed solar development in Columbia County would wipe out farmland and harm the environment.

In a letter sent to Houtan Moaveni, executive director of the New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting, state Sens. Michelle Hinchey and Peter Harckham, chair of the state Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation, outlined their concerns surrounding Hecate Energy LLC's fourth application to build a solar facility in Craryville, a hamlet of Copake.

They say the plan fails to abide by the office's standards and does not mitigate impacts to agricultural land, including a FEMA-mapped 100-year floodplain. The senators also cite clear cutting and local opposition to the project. They urge state officials to work with Hecate and area stakeholders to find a different location for the project.

"Under the current project proposal, 140 acres of prime farmland and 76 acres of farmland of statewide importance will be rendered unusable because of the solar array being constructed on it," the letter states.

New York has lost 253,500 acres of agricultural land to development between 2001 and 2016, according to the American Farmland Trust, a nonprofit that works to protect farmland. It found 78% of those acres were converted to low-density residential. AFT’s research showed that by 2040, 452,009 acres will be lost to urban and low-density conversion.

The application for the Shepherd’s Run Solar Facility project is pending before the Office of Renewable Energy Siting (ORES), which responded in a letter sent to the senators on Friday.

"As demonstrated by the decisions and final siting permits issued thus far, Office Staff, in consultation with our partner agencies, is conducting a detailed, transparent, site-, and project specific environmental review for the Shepherd’s Run Solar Facility," ORES wrote.

It says ORES "is committed to working with all stakeholders to help the State meet its nation-leading clean energy goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) as efficiently as possible."

Chicago-based Hecate Energy's solar plans for Copake have split the small town in the past.

"While we understand the necessity and support the practice of building renewable energy projects to meet the needs of our state, we cannot exchange an energy crisis for a food crisis, a water crisis, or a conservation crisis," Hinchery and Harckham said.

Matter #21 02553 Senators Hinchey and Harckham Letter (1) on Scribd