Suffolk aims to scrap Ronkonkoma solar plan

Solar panels installed over carports at the H.

Solar panels installed over carports at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. (April 12, 2012) (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

The Bellone administration is looking to scrap plans to install thousands of solar panels at the county parking lot at the Ronkonkoma train station to ensure the project won't interfere with a highly anticipated regional transit and housing hub planned for the area.

Suffolk is negotiating with the solar and wind firm enXco to alter a 20-year lease and replace the Ronkonkoma solar site -- the largest of seven countywide -- with another county parking area that could be fitted with solar carports instead. Among sites under discussion are the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College and the Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank.

Administration officials said the presence of expensive solar structures would limit their flexibility at the Ronkonkoma site.

"The Ronkonkoma Hub is a premiere project which will create thousands of jobs, and we can't jeopardize that by tying up 31 acres right in the middle," Bellone said. "We have to think big, keep our options open to maximize the possibilities."

Officials say enXco is seeking compensation for engineering studies and work completed at the Ronkonkoma parking lot. Bellone aides did not disclose how much the San Diego-based firm is seeking, but said they hope to reach a settlement within several weeks.

Katherine Heaviside, an enXco spokeswoman, declined to comment on details of talks but acknowledged, "There have been discussions and enXco is currently evaluating the economic feasibility of relocating the project."

Under the original agreement, the county was to receive $8.5 million for allowing the firm to install the panels on county property. The $120 million project calls for more than 60,000 solar panels throughout the county that are expected to produce 17 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power about 1,850 homes.

The 2,643-space Ronkonkoma lot is located south of the Long Island Rail Road tracks and north of Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Any replacement site would have to be located near a major electrical transmission line, and redesigned for that site.

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, a supporter of the hub project, first raised concerns about the solar panels last May in a letter to then-County Executive Steve Levy. At the time, Levy said, "We don't believe there is any interference between the [solar] carports and the hub."

At the time there were no plans for hub-related construction in the lot, and "I didn't see any conflict," Levy said. "If the plan has changed and they are cutting parking spaces, they better warn riders."

Bellone administration officials said the amount of parking at the site will not be reduced.

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