Suffolk Executive Steve Levy is pushing for more local labor...

Suffolk Executive Steve Levy is pushing for more local labor at solar-panel installation sites. (Undated) Credit: AP

When County Executive Steve Levy disclosed a deal to put up solar panels in county-owned parking lots last summer, he said the project would bring Suffolk County a total of $9 million and create 150 to 200 local jobs.

However, shortly after the ceremonial groundbreaking in December with then-Gov. David A. Paterson, local union officials became upset that enXco, the California-based firm that won the contract, was using contractors from Westchester. At the Brentwood Long Island Rail Road station, the first of seven sites to be built, only about 40 percent were local union workers.

"We were not happy to see jobs . . . not going to local labor," said Levy, whose staff is working to hammer out a pact to increase the number of local union workers at the remaining sites. When complete, the project will generate as much as 17 megawatts of electricity, enough for 1,800 homes.

James Castellane, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council, praised Levy's efforts and said "I don't think the company did any of this on purpose. When they realized what happened, they were more than forthcoming" about talking.

Castellane said work has continued in Brentwood while enXco, unions and the Long Island Power Authority finalize details of a "project labor agreement" to cover the rest of the project. Castellane said the work is important to the 65,000 member trades council because of the 30 percent unemployment rate in the local construction industry.

Sandi Briner, enXco's marketing director, said their firm used Westchester-based Mercury Solar Power as a subcontractor and emphasized 90 percent of the workers were from Long Island - though only 40 percent came from local unions. She said enXco "recognizes the unique skills" of union labor and is looking for ways to increase their numbers. Though officials said the number of local union workers working at the future sites would be significantly higher, they had no precise figure.

Michael Deering, LIPA vice president for environmental affairs, said use of union labor will not increase costs for LIPA ratepayers because the original power contract with enXco called for paying the prevailing wage. It will not affect the county, he added, because its revenues will be determined by the amount of power produced.

Remaining sites include the parking lot at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge; the lots at the north county complex across the street; the Cohalan court complex in Central Islip; Riverhead county center and the Deer Park and Ronkonkoma train station parking lots.

If there is no agreement over the labor issue, Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) has filed a bill to terminate enXco's agreement.

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