Bellone seeks solar farms in Suffolk despite lawsuit

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The Bellone administration is seeking new proposals to place more solar farms on county property even though Suffolk is embroiled in a lawsuit involving a never-built part of an earlier project that would have put solar panels over the Ronkonkoma train station parking lot.

The county solicited solar proposals earlier month for two potential Westhampton sites -- 35 acres at Gabreski Airport and a 161-acre former military complex that now houses 57 vacant missile sheds that is used to store equipment as well as cars involved in court cases.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the county is soliciting proposals because developers have expressed interest in becoming involved in the Long Island Power Authority's power purchase agreement under its Clean Solar Initiatives program.

The county is seeking proposals that would involve leasing county land for up to 20 years so developers could install solar panels and share the revenue with the county from the sale of the electricity.

The bid package says the county wants to be "a leader in the use of clean renewable energy" and seeks projects that can be "developed in a cost-efficient way to maximize revenues for the county." The county also says it is open to other sites and "creative suggestions that could yield additional revenues." Proposals from developers are due Dec. 2.

Before Bellone took office, former County Executive Steve Levy made an agreement with enXco to provide solar panels at seven sites, including parking lots at county buildings and local railroad stations.

However, Bellone early in his administration removed the Ronkonkoma train station from the solar project because Brookhaven officials were concerned that it might affect plans to build a transit-related development project in that community.

Because the Ronkonkoma station was removed, the county is now receiving more than 20 percent less in revenue from the deal -- $320,000 a year rather than $425,000. The county and the firm are also in court regarding damages over the loss of the site.

Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Islip) questioned the new request for proposals in light of his resolution directing the administration to study if there are other sites that could be used for solar projects and whether the county itself should invest in such projects. He said that report found that there are no other feasible sites.

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Schneider noted the report said it was not feasible for the county to invest given its ongoing fiscal crunch, but the pending request for proposals calls for developers to take the risk and pay all costs for solar construction.

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