John Turner has a bright idea for the new $60 million bridge that Suffolk officials are planning for Smith Point Park, the county’s largest ocean beach.
He says Suffolk should include solar panels on the planned 1,218-foot span — and throw in side wind turbines while they are at it.
Turner, a consultant for the nonprofit Seatuck Environmental Association and a land-management specialist for Brookhaven Town, raised his solar plan last week at a meeting of the county legislature’s environmental committee.
“The beauty of the proposal is that it would create no adverse environmental impact,” he said. “The structure in a highly open and exposed location . . . viewed by thousands of county residents annually, could become a highly visible iconic symbol of the county’s already impressive commitment toward . . . renewable energy.”
Turner cited a similar solar project that opened in 2014 on Blackfriars Railway Bridge across the Thames River in London.
That 923-foot span has 4,400 solar panels that produce 900,000 kilowatts of electricity yearly — enough to provide half the power for the nearby train station. Plans are on the drawing board for similar solar bridges across Europe and in Florida, Turner said.
Turner said he first broached the idea last year as a consultant for Seatuck. He wrote letters to County Executive Steve Bellone and two local lawmakers after word surfaced that the aging 57-year-old bridge was to be replaced.
Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), whose district includes the 5-mile-long ocean park, is enthusiastic and has urged public works officials to include solar and wind power in the bridge project.
Public works officials are less energized.
Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson said in a letter to Browning that backers make a “compelling argument,” but structural design work was already complete.
Adding solar panels would require an unbudgeted “complete redesign” to accommodate the extra weight and deal with high winds, delaying the project as much as a year, Anderson wrote.
He also noted that utility officials say the nearest possible connection to the electrical grid is 1.4 miles away and could cost $30,000 or more to hook up. Salt spray could corrode solar panels and the seagulls might drop clamshells, damaging them, Anderson said.
Turner dismissed the idea of gull bombing raids. He noted that birds drop shells on roads to break them open for food, and that shells dropped on a bridge’s slanted solar panels would fall into the water. Turner also dismissed the notion of salt damage, saying panels would be washed by rain.
Recent battles over land clearing for other solar proposals in Mastic and Yaphank, Turner added, should make a bridge site even more desirable. He said placing panels on the 7-mile grassy median along William Floyd Parkway that passes Brookhaven National Lab also could create an innovative “Solar Alley.”
“We can work together against climate change if we use places where there’s no impact,” Turner said.
Browning and Turner say there still time to consider the solar project.
Turner said that with construction of the bridge still five years away and that the federal government paying 80 percent of the cost, there is time to alter plans without a major impact. He said he will advocate for a solar bridge at the June 14 public hearing on the project at William Floyd High School.
“It may set the clock back somewhat but the potential dividend is forever,” said Turner. “All these problems are surmountable. It’s all a question of will.”