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Ronkonkoma hub developer sued over blocked solar project

Solar panels at the Brentwood train station on

Solar panels at the Brentwood train station on Jan. 12, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

A California company that won a LIPA contract to install solar carports throughout Suffolk County has filed suit against the developer of the proposed Ronkonkoma hub, charging the firm pressured county officials to withhold permits for solar panels at the Ronkonkoma railroad station.

EDF Renewable Development, formerly known as enXco, of San Diego, already has sued Suffolk County over the project, charging the county breached its $123 million agreement by blocking plans to install solar panels at Ronkonkoma. The suit is pending.

Last Friday, EDF filed suit against East Setauket-based Tritec Real Estate Co., the hub developer, in federal district court in Central Islip. The suit charges Tritec "specifically requested and pressured" Suffolk County not to issue needed permits for the solar carport project at the rail station because Tritec was developing the competing hub project. EDF said it had already invested more than $12 million in materials and consultants tied to the Ronkonkoma project, which was to be the largest of the seven planned solar arrays. The suit seeks at least $12.5 million in costs, plus another $5 million in punitive damages.

EDF installed panels at six other county locations and has since sold its stake in the project. The Ronkonkoma carports represented about a third of the total contract.

The suit, which alleges "intentional and malicious" interference by Tritec with the Suffolk-EDF contract, notes that the lease states that Suffolk was obligated to "fully support and cooperate" in EDF's attempt to complete the project.

Tritec officials didn't return calls seeking comment.

The suit alleges Tritec attempted to pressure former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to break the contract, but Levy "did not succumb to Tritec's pressure." But in 2012, the company succeeded in persuading then newly elected County Executive Steve Bellone not to permit the project, the suit charges.

The suit further charges that county officials "successfully devised a plan to 'stall' " EDF's applications for building permits by "instructing county employees involved in the permitting process not to respond" to the company's inquiries.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for Bellone, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

In February 2012, LIPA officials contacted EDF to tell the company that LIPA had been advised by Suffolk that the Ronkonkoma permits would not be issued.

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