Firm sues Suffolk over solar carport contracts

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A firm that built solar carports at six Suffolk-owned parking lots is suing to recoup $12.5 million, claiming the county breached its contract by refusing to allow construction at a leased site at the Ronkonkoma train station.

EDF Renewable Development filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip on behalf of former subsidiary Eastern Long Island Solar Project LLC. The suit claims spending by Long Island Solar included $10 million for physical equipment including solar panels and steel and $2 million in development costs and professional and project management fees. The company is seeking damages, interest and court costs.

The suit says the company "suffered significant damages" because the Ronkonkoma site accounted for one-third of the $70 million project. The firm sells power to the Long Island Power Authority under a long-term agreement and provides a share to the county. Because the Ronkonkoma station was removed from the project, the county is receiving less revenue -- $320,000 a year instead of $425,000.

"As the largest site of the entire project the Ronkonkoma site made up the bulk of the costs and due to economies of scale, improved the potential profitability of the overall project," according to court papers.

The 20-year lease agreement to allow the solar panels on county property was first negotiated during the administration of former County Executive Steve Levy. However, successor Steve Bellone balked at allowing construction at the Ronkonkoma site because town officials feared that it could interfere with a planned transit oriented development project. Efforts were made to find a substitute location, but talks on potential sites stalled.

Suffolk lawyers have called for a dismissal of the suit, saying the solar firm has no legitimate legal claim and failed to meet its obligations under the contract.

The suit is before U.S. Magistrate Arlene R. Lindsay. Discovery is set to be completed by April 9, and a final settlement conference before trial is scheduled for May 7.

Despite the legal battle, the county is seeking proposals for additional solar farms on county properties including two Westhampton sites -- 35 acres at Gabreski Airport and 161 acres at a former military complex now used to store equipment and cars. New proposals were due Monday.

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