Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is renegotiating a contract with a solar firm to relocate plans for a solar farm at the Ronkonkoma LIRR station to make way for the Hub housing project.
Plans to install solar panels at the Ronkonkoma train station parking lot are being pushed aside to protect the Ronkonkoma Hub project planned nearby. The county will have to renegotiate its contract with enXco, a solar and wind firm, to replace the site which would have been the largest of seven in Suffolk County. The Brentwood Campus of Suffolk County Community College and the Suffolk police headquarters in Yaphank are being considered as alternative sites.
EnXco has a 20-year lease with the county, and according to officials, is now seeking compensation for engineering studies and work already completed in the Ronkonkoma parking lot. As of yet, County Executive Bellone’s office has not released the exact amount the company is seeking. Katherine Heavenside, a spokeswoman for the firm, said that the firm is evaluating the feasibility of moving the project. A new site would have to be located near a major electrical transmission line and plans would have to be reworked to suit the new area. (Photo of Brentwood LIRR station parking lot with solar carports.)
Suffolk County would have received $8.5 million for allowing enXco to install 60,000 panels on county property with the capacity to produce 17 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 1,850 homes.
The initial plans had accounted for snow plowing and were designed to not eliminate a single parking space. The problem with the project is its proximity to the Ronkonkoma Hub Transit-Oriented Development, which would develop a modern housing complex and rejuvenate what has been called a blighted area north of the Ronkonkoma station.
“The Ronkonkoma Hub is the best opportunity on the east coast for a transit-oriented development with its close proximity to both the busiest train station on the LIRR and MacArthur Airport. I look forward to working with Tritec Real Estate Company and furthering the vision of the Town and community for a live-work-play destination that will attract young people and create a vibrant center for Long Island,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko said in early February about the project. The project also received a $4 million grant that will be used to create a sewage treatment plant for the development.
County Executive Bellone has said that "the Ronkonkoma Hub is a premiere project which will create thousands of jobs, and we can't jeopardize that by tying up 31 acres right in the middle. We have to think big, keep our options open to maximize the possibilities."
The proposal to outfit Long Island parking lots was introduced in early 2010, and six other lots were selected in addition to the Riverhead station lot -- H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, North County Complex in Hauppauge, Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip, Riverhead County Center, Brentwood LIRR Parking Lot and Deer Park LIRR Parking Lot. Former County Executive Steve Levy said about the project, “Solar energy is clean, renewable and safe, and our large parking areas provide ideal locations for solar panels. It’s a win-win for everybody–as not only do solar carports generate clean energy, but they provide a convenient shelter from hot sun or inclement weather for drivers.” Levy said last May that he did not believe the solar project would interfere with the Hub.
County Executive Bellone came into office this year with an admirable track record on green innovations in the Town of Babylon. “Long Island Green Homes remains a national model for clean energy job creation,” reads Bellone’s campaign website, which points out that residents would receive increased energy savings with no upfront costs for retrofitting. “Solarize Suffolk” is another bullet on Bellone’s platform to expand green jobs on Long Island by managing various applications for residents to obtain low-interest loans to install solar panels on their homes.
Bellone’s administration is facing an enormous budget deficit and, like the rest of the nation, high unemployment rates, which has clearly factored into the decision reached on the solar project.