Long Island – County creates task force aimed at placing renewables, Story By: TARA SMITH 8/31/2017
In July, county legislators and renewable energy experts joined for the first meeting of the newly formed Renewable Energy Construction Task Force, charged with making recommendations on how and where renewable energy projects fit into Suffolk County. The 14-member task force includes insight from many sectors and was formed in May after the county passed a resolution.
The legislation, laid on the table by Legislators Kate Browning and Sarah Anker, states that the county does not have a comprehensive plan for renewable energy development that balances the demand for the development of renewable energy against the destruction of forests, woodlands, and fields and the desire of communities to protect the environment. The renewable energy development plan will be drafted by task force members, who will consider both public and private properties, to target the most appropriate areas for renewable energy and think of ways to incentivize renewable energy development.
Renewable energy is a fast-growing economic engine on Long Island, with several projects proposed each year. In Shoreham, National Grid proposed a 72-megawatt solar farm on 350 acres of a larger plot, drawing many complaints from environmentalists and residents. Another project, the Middle Island Solar Farm, was proposed by Gerald Rosengarten and would be built on 100 acres of woodland in Mastic that is currently zoned for industrial use.
Michael Woloz, a spokesperson for the Middle Island Solar Farm, referred to Rosengarten as an environmentalist. “He could have developed the property years ago for light industrial uses,” Woloz explained. “But that would have had a higher impact on the environment and surrounding community,” he said. “And much more carbon intensive.”
Despite having preliminary approvals, state legislators in June approved a bill that effectively expands the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act to include 1,000 acres in Shoreham and Mastic. The bills passed 60-2 in the Senate and 139-4 in the Assembly. Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) sponsored the legislation, calling for the inclusion of two “environmentally sensitive” areas located adjacent to the central Pine Barrens boundary. Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) also sponsored the bill.
Woloz said he and Rosengarten aren’t giving up. “The sole purpose of this bill is to kill these solar projects,” he said. “It sends a chilling message to any developer wishing to build any renewable energy project on Long Island.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo has until the end of this year to sign the bill. In the meantime, the solar-hopefuls have been busy writing letters urging Cuomo to veto the bill. “This is the kind of project the governor himself has been calling for in his solar agenda,” Woloz said. “We heeded his call to build solar.”
Some environmentalists opposed the solar projects since they called for the clear-cutting of trees in order to be constructed. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, believes the public should be better informed. “Large scale energy infrastructure has some impact on the environment, but renewables still have a lesser impact than fossil fuels,” she said.
Both Esposito and Woloz think the task force will be helpful in planning for the future of energy. “As a matter of good government, you cannot allow a project to go through and achieve every milestone at a town, county and state level and then pull the rug out from under that developer, whether it’s us or someone else,” Woloz said. “But I think there’s great value in studying the placement of solar and wind. It’s definitely something that needs strategy.”
Legis. Kate Browning proposed the bill alongside Legis. Sarah Anker. “There are many projects being proposed, and a lot of companies that want to do these projects,” Browning said. “But cutting down trees to create solar is environmentally not the smartest thing to do,” she said. “Once you clear trees, that’s it. They’re gone. They are a part of our environment and help in the cooling effect of our island.”
Browning said that she supports the move to expand Pine Barren Protections. “I don’t think renewables have a place in the Pine Barrens,” she said, noting the need to protect drinking water supply in the aquifer and limit disturbances to nature.
The first meeting, Browning said, was a basic overview of what the goal is. “We are looking at the county as a whole and putting together a plan on where solar should be,” she said. “Without cutting down trees.” She said that both private and public properties are being considered, along with places like Route 58 in Riverhead where many large storefronts are vacant. The group will eventually draft a report that Browning said would be useful to solar companies wishing to bring their projects to Suffolk County.
William Achnitz III, Sustainability Coordinator at the Community Development Corporation of Long Island (CDC LI), is one member of the task force. Achnitz, who studied environmental sustainability at LIU Post, said that the task force plans to connect with business and landowners with large industrial or commercial rooftops, both good candidates for solar panels. “There are environmentally sensitive areas that solar might not be appropriate for,” Achnitz said, noting the green-for-green trade off. “We’re taking all of that into account.”
Aside from parking lots and rooftops, the task force will also examine Brownfield sites, rights-of-way and other already-developed places to target development.
One challenge, Achnitz noted, was the issue of substations. “There are various PSEG substations that are either very close or at a high percentage of their capacity,” he explained. “So, in some areas where you could potentially put a lot of solar, there’s only capacity to add so much. Otherwise, the station is not capable of distributing that energy,” he said.
According to Legis. Browning, a PSEG representative will attend the meetings but is not a voting member. “They have offered to provide technical information and help,” Browning said. Several hopeful solar companies will also be attending meetings to give the task force a better idea of what roadblocks and challenges stand in the way of their projects.
While the focus of the task force has largely been solar thus far, Achnitz said he thinks wind should be considered as well. “It’s a very important initiative, and local governments should be leaders in this area,” he said. “We’re all ratepayers on Long Island. Wherever we can be clean and renewable is really going to have a lot of benefits in terms of reducing the impacts of climate change,” Achnitz continued. “Suffolk County should be commended for taking that step towards contributing to the state goal of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.”
The task force will meet again on Sept. 27.