Solar proposal for former nuclear plant fails to receive support from school district

03/01/2017 6:00 AM |

Shoreham solar project meeting

The Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education has decided it won’t support a proposed solar farm at the site of the former nuclear power plant in Shoreham.

After representatives of LI Solar Generation didn’t attend the school board’s Monday meeting, which had been scheduled exclusively to receive feedback on the plan, members voted unanimously against backing it.

Before the vote took place, most of the residents in attendance voiced opposition to the idea.

Representatives from LI Solar Generation — a partnership between the former nuclear power plant’s owner, National Grid, and wholesale electricity supplier NextEra Energy Resources — had agreed to make a presentation at the meeting, but canceled because one of its speakers was stuck overseas and another wasn’t able to leave New York City until 10 p.m., school board president John Zukowksi said.

Controversially, LI Solar Generation has proposed clear-cutting about 350 acres of trees in order to build a 72-megawatt solar energy facility. Mr. Zukowksi said their idea also entails developing between 600 and 700 acres on the decommissioned nuclear power plant site, committing to the creation of an environmental easement to protect about 300 acres closest to the beach, placing a natural vegetative buffer around the property and providing funding for environmental programs.

Mr. Zukowski added that the proposal includes a payment in lieu of taxes of about $2.5 million — of which the school district would receive roughly 70 percent — and a commitment to funding the school’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program.

LI Solar Generation provided the school board with a “thumbnail” description of the project around a month ago and asked members to support it “based on the fiscal realities of the district,” Mr. Zukowski said.

Two weeks ago, he said, “We told them that we couldn’t possibly support anything without first hearing from the residents of the district. And the reason this meeting was put together kind of last minute is that we received a phone call from the principals of the project, who said the state had given them — at the last minute — a hard deadline of Feb. 28 [for comments on the project.]”

Mr. Zukowski said the deadline was set by PSEG-Long Island and LIPA, which must still decide whether it will sign a power purchase agreement with LI Solar Generation. Since many residents were on vacation last week for winter break, he said, the school board decided to schedule its meeting one day before the deadline.

Although Brookhaven Town has restricted clear-cutting for solar energy projects, Mr. Zukowski said LI Solar Generation believes its proposal falls under the state’s jurisdiction — not the town’s.

In a Feb. 3 letter to the school board, LI Solar Generation said it had conducted a poll showing that 70 percent of district residents chose “solar energy project” when asked how they would like the site of the former nuclear power plant to be used.

Wading River Civic Association president Sid Bail said that while his organization supports renewable energy, it opposes LI Solar Generation’s proposal because it essentially consists of “trading green for green” by clear-cutting trees to install solar panels.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Bruce Kagan of Wading River said that “If they want to do an efficient generation of power, that would be putting solar panels on the roofs of all the houses, not clearing 300 acres.”

Resident Robyn Heavey said she believes the proposed payment in lieu of taxes incentive isn’t “remotely near a value we should consider.”

“We can’t sell out the community for $2.5 million,” she said.

If necessary, resident Thomas Sheridan suggested the school board devote resources toward possible legal action to stop the project from commencing.

Earlier on Monday, Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper and town officials held a press conference to oppose the solar farm.

In a press release, Mr. Amper said that “Cutting down forests for solar energy pits the environment against the environment. It’s a false choice and stupid. This proposal is inconsistent with the panoply of Long Island’s environmental needs that must be met. It’s like saying we have to destroy the environment in order to save it.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine added in the release that “We will fight this project, no matter what’s required.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner also opposes the project.

“Neither my constituents nor I think this project is environmentally responsible or good for our community,” she said in a statement.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, said in an interview Tuesday that she believes the proposal is the best preservation option.

“If the land is going to be developed, the least impacting development would be solar,” she said, adding trees would be cut for commercial, industrial, or residential uses.

Ms. Esposito also said she doesn’t believe the state or federal government will acquire the property for preservation.

Representatives from LI Solar Generation couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

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Photo: Shoreham Civic Organization president Michael Goralski addresses the school board Monday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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