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Developers withdrawing a number of proposed solar projects

PSEG Long Island crews work to transfer power

PSEG Long Island crews work to transfer power lines to new utility poles along Montauk Highway in West Islip on Thursday, July 10, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

More than two dozen large solar projects proposed under LIPA green-energy initiatives have been withdrawn for technical, cost and zoning issues as PSEG Long Island reviews plans for their connection to the electric grid.

About 74 megawatts of solar power expected from two LIPA solar energy initiatives totaling more than 220 megawatts have been withdrawn, PSEG said. Each megawatt powers about 155 homes.

For example, about half of the solar projects proposed in the second phase of a program known as a feed-in tariff were withdrawn because needed upgrades to connect them to the grid made the projects "uneconomic," PSEG said. The cost of such upgrades could run from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands.

Of the 100 megawatts of solar that had been proposed under that program, only 52 megawatts will move forward, PSEG said, meaning only 40 of some 64 projects remain active. PSEG said it will contact competing developers whose projects were initially rejected to see if they want to re-apply.

At the same time, at least two big developers of even larger solar projects announced by LIPA in December have withdrawn their proposals, PSEG said. Those projects, one in a wooded parcel on Fairmont Avenue in Medford and a second proposed for a sod farm on Route 51 in Eastport-Manorville, would have produced a combined 26 megawatts.

Green-energy advocates had already been critical of LIPA for not awarding the 280 megawatts of renewable power sources the original request for proposals had called for. LIPA and PSEG plan to issue new bid requests for 160 megawatts, PSEG said. "This just calls into question how serious LIPA and PSEG are to really get these projects online," said Gordian Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island.

PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir emphasized the utility hasn't rejected any project, but has requested some feed-in-tariff developers pay upgrade costs to enable grid connections. He said PSEG and LIPA remained committed to green energy.

Critics of the larger projects said they weren't surprised some were withdrawn.

"LIPA went ahead and approved these projects without concern for Pine Barrens considerations, zoning, and without running them past our planning commission," said Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine.

At least one other proposal in Brookhaven could be problematic. The project, a 25-megawatt proposal planned for the Tallgrass golf course in East Shoreham, would require a waiver from a special permit to go forward, said Brookhaven Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. "Why go there?" she said. "You're going to have an entire community against it."

Alissa Krinsky, spokeswoman for Invenergy, said the company reviewed Brookhaven Town documents as part of its due diligence for the Tallgrass project and they specifically allow for the Tallgrass golf course to be included in a special overlay district that permits solar.

Solar-energy companies that have worked on feed-in-tariff projects say they are facing grid limitations.

"We've had some challenges getting interconnection approval," said David G. Schieren, chief executive of EmPower Solar of Island Park, one of the region's largest solar design and installation companies. If a local substation requires equipment upgrades to accommodate a project, "that often means additional project cost," borne by the developer, he said.

Carlo Lanza, owner of solar installer Harvest Power in Islip and chairman of the Long Island Solar Energy Industries Association, said in some cases, larger projects have been downsized to meet local grid limitations.

Weir said while feed-in tariff solar programs were intended to ensure growth of green-energy programs, the company is also obligated to "provide safe, reliable and resilient power."

The Suffolk County Planning Commission is devising a countywide code for commercial solar projects that could provide guidance for how big arrays are sited in the future.

"We need a sane policy on the siting of these power plants," said Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, who opposed placement of the Manorville array on a groundwater protection area. "We can't just process applications."

Julia Bovey, director of the Department of Public Service Long Island office, called the withdrawal of the solar projects "disappointing." But she also called it a "perfect example of what the state is trying to solve in reforming the energy vision. We need to turn to market innovation to find the solution to these types of problems. We can't just keep trying to solve issues like this the same old way."

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