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Suffolk planners to unveil model solar code

Workers perform maintenance on the panels at the

Workers perform maintenance on the panels at the massive solar farm that is nearing completion along Edwards Avenue in Calverton, Saturday, April 4, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

The Suffolk County Planning Commission Wednesday will release a model code siting large, utility-scale solar arrays aimed at helping towns, primarily on the East End, deal with the sometimes controversial projects.

The code, to be voted on by the full commission at a hearing in Riverhead, will recommend that the projects be sited primarily on industrial land and require setbacks of at least 100 feet from residential neighborhoods with buffers of natural vegetation, including evergreens.

"It will funnel projects to industrial land and away from residential areas," said David Calone, chairman of the commission. "This is a regional solution to a problem that's become apparent over the past year."

The model code, which is expected to be adopted by Brookhaven Town and other East End towns to varying degrees, also will recommend that 35 percent of the project sites remain open space.

The specification would preclude developers from including space between the solar arrays as open space. That appears to have been spurred by criticism of a proposed solar farm in Shoreham that would largely occupy what is currently a sod farm on Route 25A.

The model code, which involved months of work by commission members, town officials, Suffolk County legislators and utility and green-energy experts, will also include a list of recommendations for LIPA and PSEG Long Island as they solicit bids from developers for new solar projects.

Prominent among those recommendations is that solicitations for solar arrays require that developers show they actually have the right to develop commercial solar arrays on the properties they are proposing.

The recommendation would appear to address a snafu that has dogged a recent LIPA solar proposal, including one proposed on what is now a nature preserve in Medford. The developer recently withdrew that project, as did a developer on a sod farm in Manorville that the Long Island Pine Barrens Society had criticized because it was on water recharge land.

The commission also will recommend that PSEG site utility-scale projects on LIPA land, including one LIPA right of way of 250 acres that could produce up to 50 megawatts of solar energy.

While the code won't specify that developers give priority to rooftop solar over undeveloped land, Calone said, "We certainly want to keep encouraging developers to do rooftop" and already-developed commercial sites, because they increase solar energy without taking up undeveloped land.

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