13 Upstate & Western NY Communities Fighting Back Against Renewable Energy Projects

Sites of Resistance

For decades, mostly Downstate New York State politicians have simultaneously advocated for electrifying more appliances, home heating and cars while shutting down and blocking reliable sources of energy like nuclear, natural gas and dual-fuel power plants. Foundation-funded activists have assured them: when the time comes, they’ll be able to force Upstate and Western New York communities to turn their farmland and lakes into renewable energy and battery zones.

What they didn’t count on was that communities would stand together and fight back. Even as Downstate politicians try to steamroll local opposition and home rule with new mechanisms like the Office of Renewable Energy Siting, or rebrand their plans as being “publicly owned,” this list of local community groups is just a small sample of the deep, grassroots opposition to land-intensive, intermittent renewable energy in Upstate New York.

What did we miss? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us!

1. Copake

Company: Hecate Energy
Opposing Groups: Sensible Solar for Rural New York
Project mW: 60
Project Size: 220 acres

Texas-based Hecate Energy has been one of the most notorious renewable energy developers in NYS, with several projects that have received organized community pushback over the years. One of the most contentious battles has been over the proposed Shepherd’s Run Solar project in the 3,300-person Town of Copake. Since 2020, there have been dueling lawsuits and appeals involving this project between the Town of Copake and various New York State agencies, contesting not only the project but the power of the Office of Renewable Energy Siting itself to override home rule.

Joining many of the lawsuits against the democratically elected government of Copake have been a hydra of heavily-foundation funded environmental organizations like the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, the New York League of Conservation Voters, Scenic Hudson and New Yorkers for Clean Power.

In a September 2021 letter to his community, Copake Deputy Town Supervisor Richard Wolf summed up his frustration with the outside groups fighting against his town:

I’d like to make one more point: in their legal papers, neither ACE-NY nor the parties requesting to file an amicus brief, ever even mention Home Rule or the interests and concerns of Copake and the other petitioner-towns. They in effect argue that the petitioners don’t understand the existential threat of climate change and New York’s need to do something about it. Well, we DO get it. We’ve been saying for many months that we want to work with Hecate to develop a right-sized template for rural town solar projects, and that we will advocate for right-sized projects all around the State, so that New York can meet its ambitious renewable energy goals.

It’s safe to say that no one in Copake voted for the aforementioned groups to spend their considerable resources meddling in their affairs.

The latest update? In August of 2023, State Senators Michelle Hinchey and Pete Harckham sent a letter to ORES “underscoring the potential adverse environmental and agricultural impacts of Shepherd’s Run,” urging them to find a more “suitable location for the project.” Hinchey also recently introduced a bill to require ORES to more seriously consider agricultural impacts when siting renewable projects.

It doesn’t sound like they were successful. On August 25, Assemblymember Didi Barrett (who represents Copake) made the following announcement:

Concerned citizens can submit their comments here.

2. Middleburgh

Company: Borrego Energy
Activist Groups: Residents of Middleburgh NY
Project mW: 5
Project Size: 640 feet tall

In 2021, Borrego Solar, Inc. proposed building two industrial wind turbines as part of a community energy project on a farm about four miles outside of the village of Middleburgh, NY in Schoharie County.

The response from residents of the town was swift, and luckily for them, the local government was responsive to the grassroots energy that they showed.

A petition quickly went up that garnered close to 700 signatures:

“We, the residents, homeowners, and business owners of Middleburgh, NY and nearby affected towns, are opposed to the construction of large-scale industrial wind turbines in our town. These turbines will lower our property values, ruin our scenic views, kill wildlife, and have negative effects on the environment, tourism, and the health of residents living near them.”

By the end of May, 2022, the project was withdrawn by Borrego after the town changed its zoning ordinance to prohibit large-scale wind and solar energy projects.

“According to Don Airey, supervisor for the town of Blenheim and chair of the county board’s Energy Committee, the real issue for residents is the question of home rule. He protested the “unbelievable crassness of not only the wind and solar industries, but of our state legislators, our governor, and, you know, agencies like NYSERDA,” in forcing such developments on rural communities without giving them any say in the matter.”

3. Conquest

Company: NextEra Energy Resources
Activist Groups: Conquest Against Industrial Solar, The Rural Preservation and Net Conservation Benefit Coalition
Project mW: 200 + 20 mW of battery storage capacity
Project Size: 2,289 acres

In 2020, NextEra proposed what might be the largest solar array ever built in New York State in Cayuga County called the Garnet Energy Center. In 2021, it was reported:

“But the project is causing division among Conquest neighbors.

Long-time resident Eugene Moretti is against the project because he believes it would industrialize their quiet and for the most part, untouched community.

“We were never a partner, we were never consulted, there was never any outreach to say come here Conquest, come here citizens of Conquest this is something we want you to be a part of this, we want you to sign on,” Moretti said.”

Despite reservations from community activists and Charles Knapp, Town of Conquest Supervisor, in October of 2022, the NYS Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment trumpeted their approval of the project. A month later, The Rural Preservation and Net Conservation Benefit Coalition coalesced and filed a rehearing petition, on the grounds of the project’s impacts on wild birds.

Sadly, in February of 2023, the Board unanimously rejected the appeal.

4. Duanesburg

Opposing Groups: Duanesburg Neighbors

As a proactive measure in 2022, the Town of Duanesburg enacted a months-long moratorium on the construction of solar arrays. As of February of 2023, the town was still collecting feedback on the law while they sought to use zoning laws to balance the rights of property owners with the rights of neighbors.

5. Cortlandville

Company: RIC Development of New York
Opposing Groups: Concerned Citizens of Cortland
Project mW: 5
Project Size: n/a

Cortlandville, in Central New York’s Cortland County, is a hotbed of solar development. The latest is this 5 mW proposed for Route 2015, which comes on the heels of much bigger proposals that were highlighted by Concerned Citizens of Cortland:

“$90 million, 90-megawatt project proposed for Homer, Cortlandville and Solon.
$22.1 million, 20-megawatt project in Willet.
$27 million, 15-megawatt project in Lapeer.
project of up to 20 megawatts in Cincinnatus.
Two 5-megawatt projects on Riley Road in Cortlandville.
At least five, and possibly six, projects on properties owned by Gutchess Lumber in Cortlandville.”

The intensity of solar development has led to the resistance. One local resident even posted videos of the neighboring NextEra Energy solar farm from his house, highlighting the consistent hum that comes from the farm whenever the sun is shining.

6. Athens

Company: Freepoint Commodities
Opposing Groups: Saving Greene
Project mW: 5
Project Size: 43.4 acres

In July of 2023, it was announced that after years of Zoning Board fights and a lawsuit that made it to the New York State Supreme Court, a final ruling on a variance for the 43.4 acre Freepoint Solar farm was issued. According to Wave Farm, the Town of Athens Board passed a six-month moratorium on all solar projects for good measure.

Kris Martin, an Admin of Saving Greene: Citizens for Sensible Solar, wrote that solar developers are moving on to easier pickings in poorer parts of the state after this and some of the other proposed projects received organized opposition.

Also, thank you to the people at Saving Greene for having such a great website and we used one of their photos as the featured image of this blog post.

7. Glen

Company: ConnectGen
Opposing Groups: Glen Families Allied for Responsible Management of Land (GlenFARMLand)
Project mW: 250
Project Size: 2,000 acres

In May of 2023, ConnectGen presented plans on two solar megaprojects: Mill Point Solar 1 and Mill Point Solar 2. According to the Daily Gazette, opposition to the project has been strong:

“Widespread criticisms of the proposal have similarly remained consistent among locals concerned about the scope of the massive installation and its potential impact on the rural farming community.

“We still don’t think it’s a good fit for our community. There are better uses for this land,” said Steve Helmin, a resident and co-chair of Glen Families Allied for Responsible Management of Land (GlenFARMLand).”

In addition to fighting this project, GlenFARMLand is spearheading a #stopenergysprawl coalition.

8. Rush

Company: Invenergy
Opposing Groups: Residents United to Save our Hometown (RUSH)
Project mW: 180
Project Size: 2,000 acres

In 2018, the Blackstone-backed solar developer Invenergy signed a number of leases with farmers in Rush, NY to stitch together 2,000 acres of land for a solar mega-project. The group RUSH (Residents United to Save our Hometown) was formed in opposition, and as of the end of 2022, they had successfully delayed the project without a final victory.

In response to RUSH, Invenergy has formed an astroturf group called Finger Lakes for Clean Energy, where they are touting the project’s benefits, including the creation of three permanent jobs and 3,000 sheep that will graze the site.

9. Barre

Company: Apex Clean Energy
Opposing Groups: Clear Skies Above Barre, Inc.
Project mW: 180
Project Size: 33 Turbines, 650 Feet Tall

Since 2018, Clear Skies Above Barre has organized a door-to-door and online campaign to “protect the health, safety and welfare of the residents of Barre and surrounding communities that would be impacted by industrial wind development, that values a sense of community and neighborhood relations.”

Currently, they’re fighting against the proposed Heritage Wind Project, which promises to build what are believed to be the tallest wind turbines in the entire United States, and taller than any building in Western New York.

10. Collins

Company: EDF Renewables
Opposing Groups: Concerned Citizens of the Collins Wind Project
Project mW: 200
Project Size: 30-40 Wind Turbines

“We don’t want this to be the town of windmills and turbines… this is farm land. We want to keep it that way.”

One of the latest developing fights against renewables is in North Collins, NY.

“A few concerned citizens came together when they learned about The Collins Wind Project that was targeting prime farmlands in their hometowns. The goal of the project is to have 35-40 industrial wind turbines at a height of 650 feet each in the North Collins, Collins, Brant, Concord, and Eden areas.  With the negative impact this could have on safety and health of our communities our group quickly grew to over 1,000+ members in just two months. The Collins Wind Project would have the largest turbines in all of New York and only a few feet shorter than the largest in all of the United States!”

A fundraiser is currently running to help raise money to mount a legal defense.

11. Rotterdam

At the end of 2022, the Town of Rotterdam approved a yearlong moratorium on large-scale solar arrays, after the community had been targeted by multiple solar projects that caused backlash.

According to the Daily Gazette, the moratorium is a chance for the Town to take a step back and evaluate their options.

“Board member Joseph Mastroianni said he understands that solar energy plays a role in preserving the environment for future generations, but raised concerns about more short-term impacts that large-scale projects present for the town.

“The 12-month moratorium is going to allow us to understand particular projects as well as the general environment of this issue,” he said.”

12. Lake Ontario

Company: Apex Clean Energy
Opposing Groups: Save Ontario Shores, Inc.
Project mW: 200
Project Size: 45-70 Wind Turbines

In early 2015, Save Ontario Shores formed in opposition to a massive proposed development of wind turbines around Lake Ontario. Thanks to their tireless efforts, Apex Clean Energy withdrew their application this summer. However, SOS isn’t going anywhere; they are a plaintiff in a larger lawsuit against the state Office of Renewable Energy Siting.

13. Lake Erie

Company: Great Lakes Wind Project
Opposing Groups: Citizens Against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie (CAWTILE)

For years, environmental groups, renewable developers and liberal politicians have eyed Lake Erie as a potential place for what they believe is abundant and cheap wind energy. However, even the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) no longer believed in January that such a project is feasible, mostly due to the brutally bad economics of wind power.

Leading the fight against such a project is Citizens Against Wind Turbines in Lake Erie. Despite the negative NYSERDA report, a Westchester-based State Senator is still insisting on pushing a project through.

To protect the interests of the neighboring communities, on August 19, CAWTILE partnered with legislative champions like Congressman Nick Langworthy, State Senator George Borrello, State Senator Pat Gallivan, Assemblyman David DiPietro, Assemblyman Andy Goodell and Erie County Legislator John Mills to put on a “It’s Not Over Till It’s Over” boat rally to show their opposition.

“Our Great Lakes are the lifeblood of our communities, providing recreation, clean water and economic vitality,”” Langworthy said in a statement supporting the group. “One of my first actions in Congress, introducing H.R. 426, the Lakes Before Turbines Act, will protect our environment and local economies from ill-conceived wind energy projects on these waters.”

What did we miss? Help us write part two of this article by getting in touch with us at info@nyenergyalliance.org and letting us know about your community’s fight against unfair renewable energy siting.