LIPA Chief Operating Officer, John McMahon, left, and board member...

LIPA Chief Operating Officer, John McMahon, left, and board member Marc S. Alessi, at a public board of trustees meeting.LIPA board of trustees hold a public meeting, August 6, 2014, in Uniondale. Credit: Johnny Milano

A Long Island Power Authority trustee is leading opposition to a 60-acre solar-energy project planned for a sod farm in Shoreham, accusing LIPA and Brookhaven Town officials of inking a deal "behind closed doors and in secret."

Marc Alessi, a former state assemblyman from Shoreham who joined the LIPA board in January, said many residents only recently heard about the project, even though LIPA signed a 20-year contract to purchase power from the planned solar farm last year.

Alessi, a lawyer, said he is considering legal action against LIPA and Brookhaven Town for granting approvals for the project, including a new "overlay" district on the agricultural A1-residential-zoned farm parcel to allow for the solar arrays. Alessi said residents plan to show up in force at a Brookhaven planning board meeting Monday to raise objections.

"This is the beginning of big solar running roughshod over communities," said Alessi, noting the project was not brought before LIPA trustees. The company developing the project said it was never "asked or required" to present it to the board.

The solar array, consisting of 50,000 panels mounted on poles 10 feet above the ground on what is now a DeLalio sod farm on Route 25A in Shoreham, is being developed by San Francisco-based sPower. It would be the first in a newly approved group of "utility-scale" solar projects for LIPA. At 9.5 megawatts, it will be among the largest on the Island.

The company is also planning slightly smaller projects for a DeLalio sod farm on Edwards Avenue in Calverton, and another parcel in Southold.

In a statement, LIPA said, "To our knowledge this project and the developer sPower went through the [Brookhaven] town permitting process which included public meetings. Neither [LIPA] nor PSEG Long Island have a role in the construction or operation of this facility."

A spokesman for Brookhaven Town also denied the approvals were done in secret, and added a statement from Councilwoman Jane Bonner saying: "Public input is an important part of the process. Although the pending application is not before the town board, I encourage residents to attend" Monday's 4 p.m. planning board meeting at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

Christian Wiedemann, sPower's director of development, said the company went above and beyond the town's requirements for notification.

The company earlier this summer met with the board of the Shoreham Civic Association and some nearby residents. After objections were raised, it met this week with the full Shoreham Civic and the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization. ABCO president MaryAnn Johnston said the group opposes the project, preferring to see solar panels on roofs and brownfields rather than farmland.

Wiedemann said sPower met town requirements for on-site posting and notices to project neighbors. As for LIPA, he said: "We were never asked or required to present to LIPA trustees, but we do work very closely with procurement and interconnection teams at LIPA/PSEG."Alessi wasn't the only LIPA board member and Shoreham resident who was unaware of the project. "I just heard about it last week and I live three blocks from the thing and I'm a LIPA trustee," said Matthew Cordaro. "I don't personally think it's the best use of that property."

In recent days, sPower has been working to rebut claims that the panels will have health or other adverse effects, after meetings this week with two civic groups. The company, which hopes to begin construction in coming weeks and produce power by year's end, will keep grass growing under the panels, and plant rows of trees around the outer boundaries to hide them from view. The panels will be around 44 feet from Route 25A, and around 105 feet from homes to the east.

"The project will absolutely be a clean, silent, low-profile neighbor," Wiedemann said.

LIPA will pay 22 cents a kilowatt hour for power from the panels over 20 years, and sPower will pay local property taxes estimated between $150,000 and $250,000 a year.

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