The debate over Long Island’s environmental future can drive you crazy.
Consider legislation awaiting the governor’s signature that would add nearly 1,000 acres of forest in Shoreham and Mastic to the core preservation area of the pine barrens. Each of the two areas also is the site of a proposed solar array. And that has some environmental advocates making the maddening argument that the bill represents a choice: Preserve land or develop solar power.
As if we can’t do both. As if doing both isn’t pivotal to the region’s future. It’s a false dichotomy, and must be rejected. The bill isn’t perfect, but Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should work with its sponsors on changes, then sign it.
Underlying the debate is a simple fact: Land is precious on Long Island. Once developed, it’s lost to preservation. The pristine forest at Shoreham, in particular, would be a huge loss. But the proposed solar farms — a 75-megawatt installation on 350 acres of National Grid’s 820-acre property in Shoreham, and a 19.6-megawatt array on 60 acres of a developer’s 100-acre parcel in Mastic — can be built elsewhere. It’s unfathomable that Long Island’s leaders have not compiled a list of already-developed spaces that could host solar arrays — parking lots, rooftops, brownfields. They exist.
Cuomo has made a strong commitment to renewable energy, mandating that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from sources like wind and solar by 2030. Though wind most likely will be the biggest component of Long Island’s renewables future, solar will play a role. But the declining cost of wind power and these particular environmental considerations make the Long Island Power Authority unlikely to sign power contracts for these two solar proposals.
The Shoreham property has another role in the debate. It lies next to the decommissioned nuclear power plant, which we and others have proposed for the deepwater port Long Island desperately needs for many reasons. Wind companies signing or seeking contracts and making commitments to use local labor need the port to bring in blades and other turbine components that otherwise would go through Brooklyn or New Jersey. The state is studying the feasibility of a port. The bill sets aside some land for a port, but it’s not clear whether it would be enough.
Cuomo and bill sponsors Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) should agree to carve out additional space if it’s needed, should the state move forward with the port. And they should agree to find 60 acres in Brookhaven Town for a solar array for developer Jerry Rosengarten, who has already received site plan approval in Mastic. The town, which supports the preservation legislation, has space at its landfill and is ready to deal. Both updates to the bill can be done through an amendment process in Albany that allows minor or technical problems to be fixed in the next legislative session.
Long Island needs to preserve land, and it needs both solar and wind. Instead of playing them off each other, let’s smartly pursue both. The region’s future depends on it.