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Power's on at BP's Long Island Solar Farm

A view of the solar array of 164,312

A view of the solar array of 164,312 panels on nearly 200 acres producing 32 Kw of power. Officials from The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), BP Solar, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and a host of government officials and environmental leaders will officially mark the completion and commission of the Long Island Solar Farm (LISF). The 32 megawatt LISF installation is the largest solar array in the eastern region boasting over 160,000 solar panels and is among the largest in the nation constructed on federal property. Photo Credit: Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

Sunshine was in ample supply Friday at Brookhaven National Laboratory, bright rays glinting off seemingly endless banks of photovoltaic panels as officials celebrated the completion of the largest solar installation in the Northeast.

"As of today, we've flipped the switch," said Doon Gibbs, the lab's deputy director for science and technology.

Actually, power has been flowing from the Long Island Solar Farm to the grid since Nov. 1, said Long Island Power Authority spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

But the crowd shivering near the panels -- a mix of politicians, utility executives and environmental types who often find themselves on opposite sides of an issue -- was as giddy as if the project really had just kicked in.

"This is huge!" said an exultant Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, a green energy advocacy group.

Built by BP Solar on 195 formerly wooded acres at the lab's southeastern edge, the Long Island Solar Farm's more than 100,000 panels are expected to generate enough power to supply 4,500 homes for a year.

It's an experiment on a vast scale to see how well big solar installations fare under the changing weather conditions here. Most such projects of this size are being built in the sunny, dry Southwest.

The farm also will provide federal researchers and LIPA with a chance to scrutinize solar performance -- and its effect on the electrical grid's reliability -- up close.

A smaller test array of solar panels that was built for Brookhaven Lab scientists as part of the project also will be available for use by companies testing cutting-edge solar equipment, Gibbs said.

LIPA has agreed to purchase about $298 million in electricity from the farm over the next 20 years. Silent, with no moving parts to maintain, the panels absorb energy from the sun that is then converted to usable voltage and sent to a nearby LIPA substation.

"This is basically a trouble-free project from here on out," said LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey. "This is way less complicated than a conventional power plant."

Former LIPA chief executive Kevin Law was also on hand to view the result of the project. Now president of the Long Island Association, a local business group, Law urged those in attendance to keep pushing forward with renewable energy projects, which he said could help create local jobs.

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