Suffolk officials scrambling on solar project

Negotiations over installing nearly 3,000 solar carports at Suffolk County Community College's Brentwood campus have broken off, and county officials are scrambling to find another acceptable site for the project.

George Gatta, SCCC's executive vice president, said school officials received an email late Thursday from the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone that enXco, a company with a 20-year lease to install solar panels at seven sites in Suffolk, was "no longer interested in working with the college" on the project.

Gatta made the disclosure Thursday in a report updating the college board of trustees about meetings where students and faculty had raised questions about the proposal.

Negotiations began in April after Bellone, responding to concerns of Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, nixed the idea of using the 2,600-space county parking lot at the Ronkonkoma train station. Bellone said the solar project could hinder the ambitious Ronkonkoma Hub project, which would mix housing with retail and office space.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a Bellone spokeswoman who sent the email to SCCC, said the county is continuing talks with enXco "on other sites that might be amenable" for the project. She did not detail which county parking lots might be used.

Katherine Heaviside, enXco's local spokeswoman, said, "It is just not possible to build at the college because of the delays in the county process. It would have been necessary to start construction today" to fulfill an agreement with the Long Island Power Authority requiring enXco to begin delivering power by Dec. 31. The firm is subject to penalties if it misses the deadline.

Heaviside added no alternate sites are currently under discussion. "Nothing has happened in four months of discussion and basically the clock is running out," she said.

Currently, enXco is in the process of constructing carports at the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip and the Deer Park railroad station. The firm has finished work at lots at the Riverhead and Hauppauge county centers, and the Brentwood rail station.

The $120 million project calls for installation of more than 60,000 solar panels, and is expected to produce 17 megawatts of electricity -- enough to power some 1,850 homes.

June Ohrnberger, a representative of the Grant campus' faculty board, said she had been ready to ask the board to put off any agreement until it could be "thoroughly reviewed," but cut her remarks short after Gatta's announcement.

"While most of the campus would say they are in favor of 'green' initiatives like solar installations, few are likely to feel any pride in having the campus be the last resort for a project designed for, but not wanted at a railroad station," Ohrnberger said in a statement.

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