Potential solar battery contests with local farm in Wading River

Potential solar battery contests with local farm in Wading River

Sign outside Bakewicz Farms. Photo by Kyle Barr

On 11 acres of farmland in Wading River, the cross section between green living and green energy is coming to a head as developers are looking to install a solar energy storage facility.

“There are going to be days when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow,” said Rocky Point-based attorney Steve Losquadro, who is representing the developer TradeWind Energy and property owners Manzi Homes East construction company in Rocky Point. “If you’re truly committed to renewable energy you have to have storage. Otherwise, the whole thing doesn’t work.”

The 11-acre Bakewicz Farms property, located along Route 25A in Wading River down the road from Shoreham-Wading River High School, is rented by the Bakewicz family. Justin Bakewicz, who helps run the farm along with his mother, Marianne, said he built the farm up for two years, from selling hanging baskets to now growing crops and raising livestock. It was his dream to live that rural lifestyle since he was a kid spending time on his grandfather’s farm in Southampton.

“I put my blood, sweat and tears into this farm,” Bakewicz said.

“I put my blood, sweat and tears into this farm.”

— Justin Bakewicz

The land is already zoned for residential, and Losquadro said it already has preliminary approval from the Town of Brookhaven for a subdivision of 14 single-family homes. The attorney stressed new homes could lead to more traffic along the often-traveled corridor, along with concerns over nitrogen pollution from cesspools and a tax impact from the potential new students residences bring. This development would also mean the complete elimination of any farm property.

Losquadro said, due to feedback from locals, they are planning to draft up plans of the property that would shield the station from view with trees and accommodate a section of farmland in the front of the property to maintain that rural feel.

“This is the only path they could use to keep the farm,” Losquadro said.

Sid Bail, the president of the Wading River Civic Association, said he has heard from residents who were concerned homes might increase the burden on the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Originally Bail had invited TradeWind to give talks to the civic at its meeting in April, though after listening to more feedback from the community, he said he would withdraw from that meeting and tell the developer to focus on other properties such as the unused site that was once the Shoreham nuclear power plant.

“I’m just getting it’s the wrong location in reaction from other people,” Bail said. “I’ve also had some second thoughts about this.”

For years, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set lofty goals for New York’s renewable energy production, particularly to have 50 percent of the state’s energy consumed to be renewable energy by 2030. In January, during his State of the State address, the governor announced the adoption of a Green New Deal to promote projects and jobs in the renewable energy economy.

The area has been a focal point for renewable energy under this state initiation. Two solar farms are already soaking up the sun’s rays in neighboring Shoreham: one, a 9.5-megawatt array on a former sod farm along Route 25A, and another 24.9-megawatt array on the former Tallgrass golf course. 

While solar panels have existed for years, renewable energy storage facilities are much less prolific. The closest existing structure currently operates in East Hampton, though that property only has a 5-megawatt capacity whose facility takes up less than one acre. The Wading River facility would have a much larger capacity and need a larger footprint, according to Bail.

Brookhaven town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the prospective location is close to the area’s power lines and the LIPA electrical substation, which is why the prospective developers are looking closely at the Wading River property. Because the technology is so new, Bonner said TradeWind and the property owner will likely have to work closely with the town, and it might require a zoning change similar to what was done with the solar farms in Shoreham, which maintained residential zoning but received 20-year zone overlays allowing for the arrays.

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

— Jane Bonner

She has heard from residents on both sides of the issue. Some locals raised concerns about the loss of farmland and potential noise from converters at the facility, while others are all for the idea, especially in the promise of reducing traffic on the often-congested state road.

“People don’t want houses because they don’t want traffic, some say they will miss the farm, but I have gotten complaints about traffic from the farm,” Bonner said. “You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

At a Wading River civic meeting Jan. 24, Bakewicz was asked what his thoughts on the potential facility were. 

“I wish we had another year to stay here,” he said, adding the family is trying to work out a deal to create a farm on some property in Center Moriches, and he would need time to set up that deal. “I threw my hands up and said, ‘I have handcuffs on because my hands are tied.’”

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