Good Morning
Good Morning

Holbrook residents concerned about proposed solar farm in their community

Serafina Natale, of Holbrook, voices her concerns regarding

Serafina Natale, of Holbrook, voices her concerns regarding a solar farm in Holbrook at an informal community meeting on Thursday, June 4, 2015. As of July 2, the project is on hold. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Holbrook residents are heating up over a proposed solar energy farm on a Coates Avenue parcel owned by the Suffolk County Water Authority.

Dozens of residents packed a meeting Thursday night to discuss concerns that the solar power company SunEdison of Belmont, California, will clear trees off the undeveloped parcel at 555 Coates Ave. North. They also express concerns about the safety of solar technology, citing fears of toxic fumes and electromagnetic waves.

SunEdison announced in late May that it had signed agreements to build seven solar plants on land owned by the water authority, the towns of East Hampton and Southold, and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Holbrook residents say the Coates Avenue farm is the only one in these agreements that would be located in a residential community, while the rest are planned for areas such as former landfills and the Suffolk County-owned Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach.

"It doesn't make sense to put it here," resident Sandra Oehler said at the meeting held at the Holbrook Fire District office. "We feel they are industrializing the entire area."

Resident Serafina Natale added that she didn't feel safe around the electricity produced by solar farms. "I don't want it in my backyard," she said at the meeting.

A SunEdison spokesman said concerns would be addressed.

"Our local team will be meeting with Suffolk County officials in the coming days to discuss the SCWA solar project. SunEdison has not and will not begin construction until all pending issues have been resolved. We're committed to working with the local community on the project, addressing any concerns that residents may have, as well as explaining the benefits of solar," said SunEdison spokesman Ben Harborne in an email.

The company plans to build a 50-foot buffer of trees on the parcel and 4 acres of trees would be cleared to make space for 5,000 panels, Harborne said. The farm would generate 1.59 megawatts of direct current electricity, enough to power 136 homes a year and eliminate the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking more than 314 cars off the road annually, he said. He added that the panels are made with "monocrystalline silicon technology and are free of toxic substances as a principal material."

Harborne declined to say how much rent SunEdison will pay the water authority during the 20-year lease. The facility, if built at the Coates parcel, would require a special use permit from Islip Town.

Suffolk Legis. William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) told the residents at the meeting that he will discuss possible alternate locations for the facility Tuesday with representatives from SCWA and SunEdison.

"This doesn't fit well with the community," Lindsay said in an interview after the meeting. "It would be a drastic change to their community."

The water authority's chief executive said he would develop a plan for the site that is acceptable to the community.

"We appreciate the feedback from the community and thank Legislator Lindsey [Lindsay] for bringing the concerns of neighbors surrounding the property to our attention," said Jeffrey W. Szabo in an email statement. "We will do everything we can to develop a plan that is acceptable to everyone involved."

More news