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LIPA to buy power from solar project at Brookhaven Lab

Long Island will reap the power of the sun from what could become one of the most productive "solar farms" in the nation, to be built on the grounds of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Long Island Power Authority said Thursday.

Under a new $421-million plan approved by LIPA trustees, the 200-acre solar-panel cluster on the laboratory campus will be part of a network of panels in Suffolk County generating up to 50 megawatts.

The project "will put Long Island on the map internationally" in terms of renewable energy, LIPA president Kevin Law said Thursday.

Law said the Brookhaven site would be the biggest such facility in the United States in terms of the amount of energy produced from a single location. He did not cite a source for that statement.

The plan will add about 85 cents per month, over a 20-year period, to the utility bills of LIPA's 1.1 million customers. The project will supply a small amount of energy overall - enough for 6,500 homes, about 1 percent of LIPA customers - but it's a big first step, and it must be taken now despite a bad economy, Law said. Speaking to the trustees before the vote, Law asked, "If we can't invest now, when will we?"

The photovoltaic power will cost two or three times more than energy from conventional fuel plants, LIPA officials said. They said the higher cost is secondary to the need to find alternatives to fossil fuels.

In addition to the Brookhaven Lab solar farm, solar cells will be installed on carports at Suffolk County government parking lots.

Law spoke during a monthly meeting of the LIPA board at its Uniondale headquarters.

He said the 85-cent-a-month price tag might dip lower because Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Gov. David A. Paterson are seeking federal stimulus money for the project. LIPA expects the project will begin generating power by next fall.

LIPA said it would not pay the capital costs of building the solar panels, but instead has opted for a pay-as-you-go plan, purchasing energy as it is produced by contractors BP Solar International Inc. and enXco Development Corp. Both are subsidiaries of European companies.

Long Island Solar Farm Llc, a BP Solar affiliate, has agreed to build a 32-megawatt facility on 200 acres at the laboratory, and LIPA will pay a maximum of $298 million for the power.

The second contractor, enXco, will build solar stations capable of producing as much as 17 megawatts of power, for which LIPA will pay up to $123 million.

Several representatives of environmental and solar industry groups spoke at the LIPA trustee meeting.

"You have made the right decision," said Bill Feldman, chief operating officer of Empire Clean Energy Supply of Bohemia, which describes itself as a full-service solar energy warehouse stocking photovoltaic equipment.

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