Solar panels installed over carports at the H. Lee Dennison...

Solar panels installed over carports at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge. Similar panels have been proposed at the county parking lot at the Ronkonkoma train station, but the administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone wants to change those plans to avoid interfering with the vision for a regional transit and housing hub. (April 12, 2012) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

Time is growing short to solve the knotty issue of moving planned solar arrays from the Long Island Rail Road Ronkonkoma station to some other site. The stakes are high: The future of downtown revitalization at the Ronkonkoma Hub, anchored by the busiest train station in Nassau-Suffolk.

It would be foolish for the county to go ahead with leasing its 31-acre parking lot on the south side of the tracks for the construction of solar panels. Keeping that 20-year deal could block any potential new development on the south side, in Islip, to complement the ambitious mixed-use project in Brookhaven, north of the tracks.

But that's the deal Suffolk has with San Diego-based enXco Development Corp.: to give the company access to seven county sites, in exchange for lease payments. In turn, enXco has a deal with the Long Island Power Authority to provide 17 megawatts of solar power from the county sites by Dec. 31.

Solar panels in Ronkonkoma made sense before the hub project really got going. When it did, Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko suggested moving the panels, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is committed to that idea.

Unfortunately, enXco has backed away from a key alternate site, Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. It wants to be able to finish construction at whatever alternate site is chosen in time to deliver the promised power to LIPA by year's end.

LIPA has already given enXco one extension, and it should consider another, if necessary. For its part, the company should be as flexible as possible in accepting an alternate site for the panels.

In the long run, the 31 acres are worth a lot more to the county as a developed part of the hub than as a parking lot, with solar panels. So, if an alternate site can't be found, Suffolk may have to weigh the costs of breaking the contract, getting less lease revenue and getting sued by enXco, against the land's much-increased value to taxpayers if it's part of a thriving downtown project.

The situation calls for creative thinking, flexibility and perhaps mediation. It has to get resolved.


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