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Regional thinking will help LI do solar power right

The 450 solar panels that were recently installed

The 450 solar panels that were recently installed on top of the Brentwood Public Library. Credit: Brentwood Public Library

There is no doubt solar power is an important part of Long Island's energy future. Much less certain is how we get there.

Producing a significant amount of electricity from the sun means building large-scale solar arrays, and that leads to the question: Where to put them? Controversy already has flared about some proposals, including a solar farm on what is now a sod farm in Shoreham. The Long Island Power Authority's pursuit of 11 large arrays capable of providing 122.1 megawatts of power has drawn criticism. So it is smart for the Suffolk County Planning Commission to develop county-wide guidelines for solar installations. The code would be nonbinding, but there is precedence to suggest Suffolk's many municipalities will adopt it: Through a similar process, the commission drafted a code for residential solar installations in 2011 that was adopted in all 10 Suffolk towns.

Just how far from transmission lines and substations can these solar arrays be? Should trees be cut down to make way for solar panels? Should the arrays be set off from their surroundings by berms and setbacks? Should they be limited to industrial and commercial areas? What about siting them in residential neighborhoods, which is bound to draw protests, or on precious farmland, already the subject of intense preservation efforts? Southold and Riverhead towns already have adopted restrictions on using farms for solar.

Many of LIPA's sites are in Brookhaven Town, and some were criticized by environmentally minded Supervisor Edward Romaine as being unsuitable. The town began to draft its own code but was wise to put that on hold and defer to Suffolk. Our energy future is a regional issue that demands regional solutions.