Is Claverack the Next Copake?
Town Board Mismanages Large Scale Solar and then Ignores Violation
The large-scale solar installation on Stottville Road in Claverack (approved by the town in 2020 based on the proposal submitted by the original developer) is nearing completion, and residents are complaining to the Town. The original developer promised minimal impacts on neighboring properties, but residents say the development ignored setbacks, does not have the promised berms and screening plantings, and sends glaring reflected light into their homes.
The Hecate Solar project in Copake called attention to the gaps between local laws and existing state legislation in large-scale solar projects. This situation made clear that creating the local laws and navigating the process is a difficult task for a town board. At the end of 2019, when the Claverack Town Board passed a law regarding large-scale solar installations, there was no to little public input. No experts were consulted directly even though Copake’s struggles were already front and center in local news. Town Board Member Katy Cashen (and the sole Democrat on the board) questioned the Town’s preference for using agricultural land for these installations, but was overruled by the majority on the Board
The Stottville Road project in 2020 highlights the problems with the 2019 law. Local resident Donna Davey, writing in imby.com, an online local news and events service, questioned the plan for the farm: “I am completely in favor of solar energy [but] 17,568 solar modules on 20 acres of land on a residential street directly behind people's houses is not the way to do it.” Although Planning Board members echoed these concerns, the Town’s attorney felt that the project had to be approved because it met the requirements of the law, with its lack of clear protections for neighboring properties. Despite this the Town did nothing to fix the problems with the law for over two years.
During the construction process, residents complained that the solar farm developer violated restrictions required by town zoning laws, specific stipulations from the planning board, and agreements made with the residents. One resident was forced to hire a surveyor, at his own cost, to establish that property line setbacks were being ignored. Berms to screen the project were not built before installation (as required), and the Town approved the project and then failed to oversee its compliance. Melissa Cranna, a resident of 25 years, stated that there is such intense solar glare from the cells that from 10am on it is hard to be in her kitchen at the back of her home.
Responding to the developing debacle, in their last meeting the Town Board placed an emergency 3-month moratorium on all large-scale solar installations. Ms. Cashen asked her fellow board members to consider an offer by Troy Weldy of the Columbia Land Conservancy to consult with the Board for free on model large scale solar legislation for municipalities that has been recently updated by NYSERDA. Ms. Cashen contacted Mr. Weldy and he is currently assisting the Town Board on updating the law.
Stephanie Sussman, chair of the Claverack Democratic Committee, notes, "The Town Board has three months to strengthen this law for future large-scale solar projects. With the assistance of Troy Weldy, the Board will now have the information and tools it needs to do this right. Unfortunately for the Stottville Road homeowners, who have been terribly impacted by the lack of oversight and action, this is too little too late. We are still left to ask why it has taken so long for the Town Board to address the law's deficiencies."
It is only in the past week that Town Board members have committed to meet with representatives from the solar company and the residents impacted by the project to work on the issues with the Stottville Road project. The Board is also forming a committee that has Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals representation to help amend the law.
Claverack’s Town Board mismanaged the first of what is likely to become a series of large scale solar installations. Claverack residents depend on their elected officials to protect their property and well-being, and this includes using all means at their disposal to develop smart, up-to-date laws that can stand up to the possible excesses of large companies.
Claverack residents concerned about this and future projects likely to change the face of the Town should email the Supervisor and Town Board members (https://townofclaverack.com/departments/town-board/) with ideas, knowledge, and their opinions about the future of Claverack.
The Claverack Democratic Committee is an all-volunteer organization committed to putting our core democratic values to work on a grassroots level. Our strength comes from our beliefs of honoring inclusion and diversity; respect for liberty, equality, and justice; and improving the quality of life for all in our Town of Claverack and Village of Philmont community.
We work to elect leaders for local, county-wide, state, and federal offices. We value open governance and free and fair elections, and we support community participation in public meetings, on local boards, through volunteer efforts, and, above all, by voting.
PHOTO CREDITS: Lynda Akerman