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LIPA to pursue 11 solar arrays in Suffolk, reject offshore wind farm

LIPA will pursue 11 large solar-power arrays in Suffolk County to expand its green-energy sources by 2016 but has rejected an offshore wind farm because of its cost.

At a meeting at LIPA headquarters Wednesday, LIPA trustees voted to authorize officials to pursue the 11 solar arrays on large land parcels in Calverton, Manorville, East Shoreham, Medford, Yaphank and Kings Park. At the same time, trustees voted to extend a contract for energy from an upstate nuclear power plant valued at $159 million. The FitzPatrick plant in Scriba provides LIPA with about 5 percent of its power.

The 11 solar projects would provide 122.1 megawatts of power from hundreds of thousands of solar panels when completed in 2016. That's short of the original plan to build 280 megawatts of green energy as part of a request for proposals announced in 2012. LIPA said the projects will be subject to full environmental reviews and approval by the trustees.

LIPA chief John McMahon said the authority would work with PSEG Long Island to issue a bid request for the remaining 160 megawatts next year.

Critics of the new projects are already lining up.

Edward P. Romaine, supervisor for Brookhaven Town, where many of the sites are to be located, said in a statement, "None of the sites named by LIPA within the Town of Brookhaven appear at first glance to be suitable for siting solar arrays." In addition, he said, "I am emphatically opposed to the widespread clearing of trees for solar arrays."

Critics at the meeting chastised LIPA for failing to commit to the full 280 megawatts of the original bid request, and one Shoreham resident called the authority's plan to place another solar array near one that is the subject of a lawsuit "disgusting."

In recommending against the wind farm, LIPA staff said "the wind projects were not selected primarily because of their total cost relative to other alternatives, including risks inherent in those proposals."

Dozens of wind-energy advocates expressed dismay that the offshore project didn't make the cut, at one point chanting, "We want wind."

Peter Gollon, chair of the local Sierra Club's energy committee, gave LIPA an "F" for failing to make good on its plan to issue 280 megawatts of green energy.

LIPA board member Mark Fischl said while he supported the wind energy proposal and wanted to vote for it, significantly higher costs, including the impact of an expiring 30 percent federal tax credit, made the choice difficult. He said the board and LIPA had to balance the need for more green energy against the rate impact on all LIPA customers.

Wind-farm developer Deepwater Wind called LIPA's cost analysis "seriously flawed."

Outgoing LIPA board member Marc Alessi abstained from the vote, noting he'd only received documents on LIPA's solar recommendations just after noon Tuesday.

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