Suffolk County will receive $8.5 million in lease payments over 20 years from a $123-million project to install 60,000 solar panels in parking lots at seven county locations.
"Anytime you get this kind of money, it's free and you can put it to good use," Levy said at a news conference in Hauppauge Tuesday to announce the Long Island Power Authority project.
LIPA will pay more for the energy from the installation than it does for power at existing plants, but the authority said the zero-emission power is worth it.
The panels will be placed in carports in lots at three Long Island Rail Road stations and four county office buildings. They will generate up to 17 megawatts of power, enough for around 1,800 homes.
The project contractor will be enXco of Escondido, Calif.
Asked why Suffolk wouldn't forgo the payments to lower LIPA rates, Levy said the payments from enXco will be used to "help avoid or mitigate tax increases" and "avoid cuts in programs people rely on."
Officials said the project will lead to the hiring of 150 workers during the yearlong construction that is scheduled to begin in April. Workers will come primarily from local construction companies, enXco said.
LIPA chief Kevin Law, a former chief deputy under Levy, acknowledged the authority will pay a "green premium" for the energy. Combined with a large solar project slated for Brookhaven National Laboratory, that premium will cost the typical LIPA residential customer around 83 cents more a month.
But Law said the projects, which together represent the largest solar-energy initiative on the East Coast, were a hedge against volatile fossil-fuel costs. "We need to view this as an investment," he said.
Law said enXco was chosen because its bid was the "most qualified" and cheapest. He didn't rule out future projects of a similar scale in Nassau.
The panels will be at rail stations in Ronkonkoma, Brentwood and Deer Park, and in the county's H. Lee Dennison complex in Hauppauge, the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip, the Riverhead County Complex and the North County Complex.
The panels will span 46 acres. Because they sit above parking spaces, the panels won't reduce the amount of parking available, officials said.
Snow is not expected to be a major barrier to energy production or lot clearing.
Sandra Briner, marketing director for enXco, said the solar carports are designed to slough off snow. She said procedures are in place if the white stuff "piles up."
Faced with up to 1.5 inches of snow, "we do nothing," she said, because the panels are angled and designed to absorb light, so snow melts and "slides away."
More than 1.5 inches of snow triggers crews to clear the panels, along with the plow crews, she said.
The solar carports also are designed for plows to "get in and around them," Briner said.