Developers of Long Island's largest solar array on private land garnered mostly support at a gathering to showcase the project Wednesday, even as residents expressed opposition to an adjacent solar project that has already begun construction.
Fewer than a dozen residents turned up at the open house to get the latest developments in the larger project, which would see more than 100,000 black solar panels placed on 127 acres on what is now the Tallgrass golf course in Shoreham. It still needs town approvals and a final contract with the Long Island Power Authority.
Chicago-based developer Invenergy plans to begin construction on the $89 million, 24.9-megawatt Tallgrass solar project in April, saying it will provide enough energy to power 3,500 homes, and employ 200 construction workers.
Across the road on the DeLalio sod farm, construction began this week on a 9.5-megawatt solar array along Route 25A. Both will supply power to the LIPA grid.
"I don't like the sod-farm one. I don't mind this [Invenergy] one," said Tony Pirraglia of Shoreham. "I think this one will be well hidden."
Invenergy told residents it will be. "Unless they're flying over the site like a bird, they're not going to see it," said Brad C. Pnazek, manager of business development at Invenergy. He described the layers of trees and shrubs, the downward slope of the arrays and other factors that will keep it from view.
On nearby Cobblestone Drive, which abuts the golf course, several residents who didn't attend say the project doesn't belong in a residential area. Others said they'd be more willing to support it if there were some tangible benefit.
"There's no tax or energy break, there's no residential benefit whatsoever," said Jim Hodun, who didn't attend the meeting.
Neighbor Phil Carey suggested the company offer discounted power or cash for the amount his property has been devalued. He and his wife, Laura, are trying to sell their home but believe both solar farms are dragging down values.
Invenergy and a dozen consultants, including former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin, now of Mercury Public Affairs, were on hand to answer residents' concerns about the project. "Long Island has very ambitious renewable energy goals," Halpin said. "Projects like this are necessary to achieve those goals."
LIPA trustee Matthew Cordaro, who lives in Shoreham, said that while he favors the "less visible" Invenergy project to the one across the road, he expressed concern that a lot of solar energy was concentrated in so small a region. The Brookhaven Lab solar array, rated at 32 megawatts, is a few miles south.
"We're going to be paying for some very expensive electricity that's going to be shed or dumped at times," he said.
Invenergy will connect the project into a high-voltage transmission line, avoiding the need to take up limited space at the Shoreham substation. The company said it will pay taxes of up to $900,000 annually compared with the current $78,000.
Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) applauded Invenergy for "transparency" into its project, and called it "a good fit" for the area. She said she would like to see an education center at the site. Invenergy has offered the golf club house as a community center with a 20-year lease.