Two state lawmakers from Long Island will lead an effort to preserve woodlands around the decommissioned Shoreham nuclear plant that a developer has proposed clearing for a giant solar-power array.
State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said they will explore ways the state and Suffolk County, working with landowner National Grid, can preserve the 400-acre site after the utility last month proposed using 350 acres for the solar array.
National Grid and developer NextEra Energy Resources proposed the state’s largest solar array on the property, which National Grid acquired when it bought KeySpan in 2007. KeySpan inherited the property from the former Long Island Lighting Co. in 1998. National Grid also owns another 400 acres to the south of North Country Road.
Last month, the two companies said they would propose the 72-megawatt solar farm for a LIPA bid request at the Shoreham site, noting its proximity to a large transmission interconnection to the LIPA grid and the fact that National Grid owns the property — two factors that have impeded other large solar projects.
Some community groups and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine expressed immediate opposition to the project, saying it amounted to trading “green for green.” But the project has the backing of the Long Island Association and its president Kevin Law, who wrote a letter of support, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, whose directors, Adrienne Esposito and Neal Lewis also penned letters of support.
LaValle and Englebright said they would initiate efforts to see the valuable woodlands preserved.
“My efforts would begin with National Grid, to see how much of that land they’re willing as a good corporate entity to preserve,” LaValle said. “Then, a combination of state and county acquisition” could purchase the remainder, he said.
In any case, LaValle said, “There’s no doubt in my mind that that property should be preserved.”
Englebright, a Stony Brook University lecturer with a master’s degree in geology, described the “old-growth forest” at the Shoreham site as “a rarity from several vantage points.”
“It has great architectural significance,” he said, noting that records and geological findings indicate the area of Wading River was a habitation site for American Indians. He also described “spectacular walking trails,” bluffs and woodlands that make it ideal as a coastal forest preserve.
“First we have to dare to dream,” he said. “I think it’s important to put the thought out there, to recognize this is a rarity in modern Long Island, an ecological rarity that has survived by historical accident, when most coastal habitats have been converted to housing.”
He said “several levels of government really would have an interest here,” and he plans to broach the notion when he returns to Albany.
In a statement, LI Solar Generation, the 50-50 partnership between National Grid and NextEra, said, “We are prepared to work closely with all public officials and the local community to come up with the best solution to have renewable solar energy at Shoreham, and preserve as much of the property as possible.”