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Solar developer proposes 300-acre set-aside in Shoreham

An aerial view of the decommissioned Shoreham nuclear

An aerial view of the decommissioned Shoreham nuclear plant on July 13, 2015. National Grid and NextEra Energy Resources have proposed building the state's largest solar energy array on undeveloped woodlands near the Shoreham plant in a move that could stoke the green-for-green debate. Credit: Daniel Brennan

The developer of a proposed solar farm on undeveloped woodlands around the decommissioned Shoreham nuclear plant says it would set aside hundreds of acres of land for preservation for the right to go ahead with the project.

In a statement to Newsday, Ross Groffman, executive director of Long Island Solar Generation, said the set-aside would be composed of 300 acres, around 37 percent of the property owned by National Grid.

“As part of its proposal, LI Solar Generation will offer a 300-acre conservation easement at the Shoreham site if the solar project is constructed,” he said. The easement would be on the northern portion of the property, a site many consider to be more environmentally sensitive, with high bluffs overlooking Long Island Sound.

The entire National Grid parcel is composed of two large sections of land on the north and south sides of North Country Road in Shoreham/Wading River. The original proposal would have put the solar development on the northern parcel. The southern parcel is crisscrossed by transmission lines and a large substation.

National Grid and NextEra Energy Resources, which are 50-50 partners in Long Island Solar Generation, last year proposed what would be the state’s largest solar array at Shoreham, a 72-megawatt facility on 350 acres capable of powering as many as 13,000 homes. The project’s large size and proximity to existing electrical transmission lines and the substation make it more economically feasible than other large solar farms, but opposition from local officials and residents was registered soon after its June unveiling.

National Grid owns about 800 acres around the nuclear plant, most of it undeveloped. At its northernmost edge, the property abuts Long Island Sound near Brookhaven Town’s Shoreham Beach.

It’s unclear whether the preservation is enough to appease opponents.

“To me personally, no, it’s still green for green,” if the companies are still proposing developing 350 acres of woodlands to develop the project, said Sid Bale, president of the Wading River Civic Assocation. “It’s still knocking down trees. It’s not something the Town of Brookhaven would be receptive to. I don’t see where it changes anything.”

Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said that while he was encouraged by the offer, he’d have to see specifics.

“I’m interested to learn more,” he said. “I think that it’s appropriate for them to start to think outside of the box. I think it’s too early to know whether this is a good idea or part of an evolving thought process.”

Asked if he’d support it, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine, who led a recent town board move to ban solar farms on parcels that would necessitate clearing of trees, said his first impression was, “No.”

He emphasized that he had yet to hear from the companies about any preservation proposal or their plans. “They certainly would be well-advised to have a discussion with the Town of Brookhaven,” he said.

PSEG Long Island spokesman Jeff Weir said the company hadn’t yet been briefed on the preservation proposal, but added, if true, “the developer is doing exactly what we ask them to do: to continually work on permitting and licensing their projects during the evaluation process so that we have greater certainty about the projects when it comes to making a final decision.”

PSEG and LIPA are expected to make final selections for the more than 200 megawatts of renewable energy in the early spring.

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