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Brookhaven proposes changes to tighten its codes on solar panels

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, seen July

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, seen July 21, 2016, said the proposed code changes would "make sure that large solar farms do not encroach on residential neighborhoods." Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Brookhaven officials are weighing an amendment to the town code that would encourage businesses to install solar panels on roofs and parking lots — and virtually ban commercial solar arrays from farms.

The move comes amid controversy over a plan to clear hundreds of acres of trees near the decommissioned Shoreham nuclear power plant for a massive solar farm. Brookhaven officials have expressed opposition to the plan.

Many residents previously had opposed commercial solar arrays at sod farms in Shoreham and elsewhere.

The proposed code changes, which have drawn support from some civic leaders and environmentalists, provide economic incentives for commercial and industrial building owners who install solar panels on roofs and in parking lots, town officials said. The law also would bar clearing trees to make way for solar panels.

“It should be very obvious to everyone that solar should be going on rooftops instead of cutting down trees,” Brookhaven Town Planning Director Tullio Bertoli said in an interview.

Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, in a statement, said the amendments would “protect our natural resources and make sure that large solar farms do not encroach on residential neighborhoods.”

The town board may vote on the proposal Oct. 24. The plan would not affect residential solar panels.

The proposal builds on the town’s current code, based on a model solar code adopted by the Suffolk County Planning Commission in May 2015. That code recommended that big commercial solar projects be sited on industrial-zoned land and said rooftops should be the preferred site for solar.

Development of the county code followed protests and a lawsuit in response to a large solar array in Shoreham. Construction on that 60-acre site is now complete, and work was scheduled to begin this month on an adjacent 127-acre Shoreham site at the Tallgrass Golf Course.

Spokesmen for LIPA and PSEG Long Island didn’t respond to a request to comment.

National Grid and partner NextEra Energy Resources have proposed to put a solar array on some 350 acres surrounding the Shoreham nuclear plant, a project Romaine has strongly opposed.

The proposed town code would encourage businesses to add solar arrays by allowing them to install fewer stalls than usually required in parking lots that include solar panels. Shopping centers and office buildings with solar arrays on their roofs also would be allowed to expand by up to 20 percent, town officials said.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said the proposed code would place solar arrays in locations where they would not disturb bucolic views.

“Rather than coming out against solar, we’re coming out for solar in the right places,” he said at a Sept. 29 Brookhaven Town Board public hearing.

Jim Gleason, vice president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, said the town’s requirement for 7-foot high trees would not be enough to shield solar farms from view. He called for 20-foot trees.

“Solar panels are ugly,” he said.

With Mark Harrington

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