A large and controversial solar array proposed for 800 acres of woodlands in Shoreham is back in the news, after revelations that the developer has offered to preserve 300 acres and establish a $5 million environmental fund, and that payments in lieu of taxes would exceed $2 million a year.
Those are interesting numbers, but they still don’t add up to a convincing argument for a 75-megawatt plant that would be the state’s largest solar array — even though the power produced would be green, and even though meeting the state’s clean energy standard that 50 percent of New York’s electricity come from sources like wind and solar by 2030 means a gradual conversion to renewables.
Destroying 350 acres of undeveloped forest would be a huge loss for a region that still doesn’t know how much already developed land, brownfields and parking lots also could host solar arrays. More to the point, offshore wind increasingly looks like the best large-scale renewable energy source for Long Island. Its price is coming down, it’s easier to site, technological advances mean installed bases can be upgraded with more powerful turbines as they are developed, and more power can be produced with no footprint on land. That’s especially important for Long Island, where real estate is expensive and forests are precious.
A recently approved wind project 30 miles off Montauk will generate 90 megawatts; the same output would require 450 acres of solar. Experts say viable sites off Long Island’s tip and southern coast could produce thousands of megawatts of wind power. And the Long Island Power Authority is evaluating another proposal to bring in 500 megawatts of solar and wind via undersea cable from sites in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia.
Some supporters of the solar array in Shoreham say that’s preferable to building housing; the site is zoned residential, one house per 10 acres. But that’s a strange argument. Brookhaven, like many towns, typically requires such housing to be clustered to preserve open space, wetlands and historic features. That could result in the preservation of a whopping 600 to 650 acres in Shoreham. And state lawmakers such as Assemb. Steve Englebright are trying to forestall even that by preserving the entire parcel as a state park.
The most compelling argument is that LIPA should let the Shoreham solar proposal be gone with the wind. — The editorial board