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Assembly may take up bill that could scuttle solar farm plans

The Pine Barrens preserve features 2,700 acres of

The Pine Barrens preserve features 2,700 acres of undeveloped land, a bird conservation area and 7 1/2 miles of marked hiking trails. Photo Credit: Ian J. Stark

The state Assembly as early as Monday is expected to take up a bill to expand the core pine barrens designation to hundreds of acres in Shoreham and Mastic, in a move that could lead to scuttling plans for two commercial solar farms, including what would be the state’s largest.

National Grid, which owns the Shoreham land and is proposing a 72-megawatt solar farm on 350 of its 800 acres, opposes the bill, arguing it “unfairly deprives the company and its customers of all economically viable future use of its property.” Pine barrens designation would restrict future development. A second 100-acre woodland in Mastic also would be preserved.

One of the bill’s sponsors expects passage in the Assembly. “I believe we have the necessary support” to pass it, Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said Friday.

Its fate, however, is uncertain in the Senate, where Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has offered a companion bill.

Some local lawmakers and civic groups say while they support solar power, they oppose the plan by National Grid and Florida-based power company NextErato trade “green-for-green” by leveling woodlands for a solar farm.

“These lands should have been included in the original pine barrens designation,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said Friday at a New York Institute of Technology Energy Conference. “I wait with great anticipation for the legislature to act.”

But others, including Citizens Campaign for the Environment, support solar farms on the properties, saying the benefits of the green power to be produced far outweighs the negative effects of the industrial or housing development for which the land is zoned.

Also this week, the state Department of Public Service will hold four public hearings to solicit public opinion on LIPA’s plan for future Long Island energy resources. LIPA’s recommendations call for shelving proposals to overhaul existing National Grid power plants in Island Park and Port Jefferson, and nixing a plan for a new 750-megawatt plant in Yaphank.

Instead, LIPA and state officials say some 800 megawatts of new green-energy sources — primarily offshore wind power — are needed to shift the Island’s resources to cleaner generating options. LIPA said scuttling the power plant plans will save ratepayers more than $5 billion, though it has offered no corresponding cost estimate for the green-energy proposals, calling any projections “speculative.” LIPA’s already approved Deepwater Wind proposal for a 90-megawatt wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island will cost ratepayers $1.62 billion over 20 years, starting in 2022.

The hearings start Wednesday at the William H. Rogers Legislative Building, 725 Veterans Memorial Hwy., Smithtown. Information sessions start at 1 p.m., with a second at 6 p.m. Public comments will be taken at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The Suffolk hearings will be followed by two on Thursday at the Nassau Legislature building, 1550 Franklin Ave., Mineola. Information sessions will be held at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. and public comments taken starting at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Ratepayers who can’t make the hearings can submit comments in writing to secretary@dps.ny.gov, or leave voice mail at 800-335-2120. Comments should reference “Matter No. 17-00696 — LIPA and PSEG LI Integrated Resource Plan.”

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