For over 25 years, developer Jerry Rosengarten and his partners have paid their taxes for the 100 acres they own on Moriches-Middle Island Road in the Town Of Brookhaven.
But as their project to construct a solar farm on their land continues, other projects like those in Shoreham have stopped.
Last week, Brookhaven’s Town Board unanimously voted to bar the clearing of trees for the purpose of installing solar panels, stopping the Shoreham Solar Farm project in its tracks.
“No trees will be cut down in Brookhaven to make room for solar panels,” said Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. He has previously stated that he is against the Shoreham Solar Farm project.
The law states that the places that solar panels are allowed would be rooftops, parking lots and areas that are already cleared or ground fields.
The proposed law would not affect private homeowners, and it offers financial incentives for commercial and industrial building owners.
“If they were to install solar panels on their roofs, businesses would be allowed to expand their roof space by 20 percent,” Romaine explained. Shopping centers and office buildings would also be allow to install fewer parking spaces if they set aside parking lot areas for solar panels.
“Brookhaven’s law has virtually killed the Shoreham project,” says Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment and supporter of the solar farm.
National Grid and NextEra Energy Resources, who proposed the Shoreham Project, would not comment on the halt of their project.
The Middle Island Solar Farm would not discuss what the new law means for their project or if they are able to continue developing the land as most of it takes place in a cleared area, says Michael Woloz, spokesperson for Rosengarten and the MISF.
Esposito explained that in order for the project to advance, the area would have to change its zoning properties, which the town board will most likely not approve. She says that this is not an example of green energy stepping on the environment, but yet another example of government focusing on the wrong thing.
“Green vs. Green is a silly statement,” Esposito said. “Environmentalists will agree that you need to place solar panels in a place where it will have the least effect, and the Shoreham site was an example of that.”
Suffolk County farmland is one such place where acres of low vegetation could be used for solar panel installation. The 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, the latest data available, reports that there are 585 farms in Suffolk County, covering 34,404 acres. Over 10,000 of these acres have been protected in the Suffolk County Purchase of Development Rights Program, which allows the county to buy non-agricultural development rights of farmland.
But in October, the New York State Supreme Court struck down a county law that would allow farmers to sell their land to be used to develop solar and wind power installations, ruling that the use of special permits and hardship waivers to allow for non-agricultural use of farmland intruded on the public’s right to prohibit development.
Richard Amper, Executive Director of the Pine Barrens Society–the group that filed the lawsuit–says the government can’t overstep the voters who chose to pay taxes that would be used to pay farmers who keep their land in order to preserve the environment.
“Government can’t promise that the money is being spent in a way that will preserve this farmland, and then, after the voters vote for it , say, April Fools, we’re going to give the money to the farmers and let them develop anyway,” Amper said.
County Attorney Dennis Brown says he and his staff are reviewing the ruling to see if they can appeal, but Amper is confident that the only way to overturn the ruling is to hold a county referendum to get rid of the original law.
Because of this ruling in Suffolk and the law in Brookhaven, Long Island has gained limits to viable, large-scale solar farms, but a new project to provide the area with alternative clean energy without the need for mass development has been proposed by Chicago-based green-energy company Invenergy.
According to their Clean Energy Link project, Invenergy would be able to connect and transport energy acquired from solar and wind farms in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and transfer them to an energy station in New Jersey. The New Jersey station would then convert the energy and transfer it through an undersea cable in the South Shore to a power station in Melville.
“It’s an innovative approach to bringing renewables from where they’re abundant and affordable, to areas that want it, but those areas for which it’s impossible because of the cost and the lack of real estate that’s necessary to do with,” Craig Gordon, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for Invenergy, said.
Gordon says that the project could power about five-hundred thousand homes on Long Island and that it would accomplish at least 15 percent of the requirement for Long Island to fulfill New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 50 by 30 plan, which states that New York will get half of its power through clean energy by 2030.
“That’s a hard thing to accomplish when you get laws like those in Brookhaven,” Esposito said. “Instead of focusing on ways to get get rid of dirty fossil fuels, they’re limiting our solar capabilities.”