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Solar Energy

Aerial shot of the new solar array. Photo from anonymous

After the Izzo family leased their 26-acre Kings Park property to the Town of Smithtown for a landfill during the 1970s, the place was declared uninhabitable. Today, the site is revered as one of Long Island’s largest solar farms.

Izzo family leads Long Island into New York’s green energy future. Photo by Donna Deedy

The 4-megawatt project was showcased on June 20 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, an event that unexpectedly coincided with New York State’s sweeping new clean energy legislation promising to become carbon neutral by 2050.

“It’s almost like we knew what we were doing,” said Tom Falcone, Long Island Power Authority CEO, who attended the event along with county and town elected officials. The achievement, he said, entailed a cooperative effort. “It took a village, a town, a state and the Izzo family.”

The state’s ambitious new energy plan renders the privately owned Kings Park solar farm a shining new example of what the future may look like with private landowners and non-developable property transformed to serve a public utilitarian purpose.

“It takes a lot of gambling but, wow, was this a good project,” said Paul Curran, founder of Wappinger Falls-based BQ Energy, a company committed to the sustainable redevelopment of environmentally contaminated sites known as brownfields. “Once you see it, people say it makes so much sense.” He expects the site to inspire additional projects. 

Curran first approached the Izzo family with the idea of using their property for a solar site in 2013. RECOM Solar leased the development rights from the family to construct the project. NextEra Energy Resources, which claims to be the world’s largest supplier of renewable energy took over in December 2018, when the site became operational. 

The solar project, which consists of 18,000 solar panels, created 50 jobs, mainly in the construction sector, according to Bryan Garner, NextEra’s director of communications. NextEra signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with LIPA, which will ultimately result in nearly $800,000 in revenue for Smithtown. That’s $33,000 per year for the first 15 years in payments in lieu of taxes and $296,000 in tax revenue for the final five years. 

The project will offset more than 4,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of removing 800 cars off the road. 

Unlike fossil fuel plants, the facility operates silently and requires very little maintenance. “We check it about four times a year, so it’s maintenance free,” said Aaron Benedict, who monitors the project for NextEra. His cellphone includes an application that remotely monitors the operation 24/7. 

Suffolk County and Smithtown government officials attended the event with Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) arriving in one of the town’s two all-electric vehicles. 

“We are all in with renewable and clean energy,” he said. The town, he said, expects to systematically transform the Old Northport Road corridor. The roof on its recycling center, which is located near the solar farm, is fitted with 50-kilowatt solar system and has a 10-kW wind turbine. The town is also discussing the development of a solar farm on the closed landfills, which could eliminate the town’s need to purchase electricity, according to Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s Environmental Protection director. Additional town projects are also under discussion and will be considered during the town’s 2020 budget process.

The financial terms of the arrangements between NextEra and the Izzo family remain confidential. 

“This is all about what good this site can do for years to come,” said Robert Izzo Jr, whose family has owned the property for decades.

PSEG reports that 161 MW of its energy supply is generated from renewable projects, mainly solar panels. 

Billii Roberti, a member on the Town of Huntington’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainability, attends the meeting on solar prospects for churches and nonprofits. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

A Huntington Station church recognizes that the Bible says God made light and it is good, now if only they could afford to reap the sun’s benefits.

Bethany Presbyterian Church is one of many houses of worship with an interest in harvesting solar energy, but many are finding the upfront costs are too high.

In 2017, the church financed an audit of its electric system and insulation in an effort to increase its energy  efficiency, Pastor James Rea Jr. said. While this helped reduced the congregation’s electrical bill by 20 percent, according to Rea, the  congregation is interested in taking it a step further.

We would do solar, but we just can’t afford it right now.”

– Christopher Sellers

“We would do solar, but we just can’t afford it right now,” Christopher Sellers, an elder at Bethany Presbyterian, said, noting the church is still paying for the energy audit.

While renewable energy proponents point to community solar initiatives, where the output from a solar farm is shared among multiple buildings, there is still a large upfront cost and requires a significant amount of space to build the solar farm according to Ryan Madden, a sustainability organizer for Long Island Progressive Coalition.

“We need solutions like community solar,” Madden said. “Our version of community solar takes the form of bringing in multiple organizations at the same time to bring down cost and creating locally driven solar campaigns.

LIPC partnered with Massachusetts-based company Resonant Energy, which works with nonprofits to provide low-cost solar, to create the PowerUP Solar initiative. The initiative seeks to bring together nonprofits and churches for the intent of purchasing solar systems in bulk to help decrease the cost. PowerUP member organizations held a meeting with other interested groups June 13 at the Huntington Station church to advertise their plans.

Madden said nonprofits have a difficult time when it comes to getting a solar hookup simply because of the issue of affordability.

We’ve seen widespread adoption in single-family homes, but not so much in small commercial spaces.”

– Isaac Baker

“They are not usually looked at by solar developers because its more expensive, or there are multiple decision makers in those organizations that can stall a project,” he said.

Other than cost, Isaac Baker, the co-president of Resonant Energy, said the nonprofits also have to contend with a lack of incentives to get into solar, specifically that nonprofits are not eligible for the federal
solar tax credits that homeowners or for-profits can get. There are no current programs that financially help New York organizations transition from traditional electric to solar.

“We’ve seen widespread adoption in single-family homes, but not so much in small commercial spaces,” Baker said. “[A large amount] of rooftop is available in any state on small commercial buildings that are owned by nonprofits.”

Some religious organizations on Long  Island have already invested heavily in solar technology. The Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood made a big splash earlier this year when they unveiled their community solar system on their main campus. The 3,192 solar photovoltaic panels on their roof power 63 percent of the convent’s residential and office space on the 212-acre property.

Karen Burke, the coordinator of land initiatives for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said that her sisterhood was looking to make the switch at other facilities.

The town is really into getting into as much solar as possible, so this is a great untapped resource.”

– Billii Roberti

Baker said that if the PowerUP can bring together 10 different organizations, bulk pricing could bring the cost of solar panels down to $114,000 per building with 56 kilowatts of output. The initiative’s members were promised to save approximately $2,200 per year and a net savings of $212,000 in 25 years, according to Baker.

The time line for the PowerUP initiative would have the nonprofits and churches getting technical assessments by the end of July, having installation done in September and the systems up and running by October.

Billii Roberti, a member on the Town of Huntington’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainability, said that Huntington should try to look to nonprofits to proliferate sustainable energy.

“[This initiative is] bringing in people who are otherwise unable to take advantage of solar, people who are disenfranchised in a sense,” Roberti said. “The town is really into getting into as much solar as possible, so this is a great untapped resource.”

Supreme Court judge throws out lawsuit against Shoreham solar project

The DeLalio Sod Farm in Shoreham, where a solar panel facility is in the works. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town reached the trifecta of adopting renewable energy codes when it embraced Suffolk County’s model solar code last week.

After previously adopting the county’s geothermal and wind energy codes, the Brookhaven Town Board approved the one for solar, which will permit solar energy production facilities by planning board special permit in the town’s industrial zones. According to Suffolk County Planning Commission Chairman Dave Calone, the town is the first in the county to adopt all three model codes.

“Brookhaven is the place where renewable energy is moving forward,” Calone said prior to a public hearing on the matter on Aug. 6.

Deputy Town Attorney Beth Reilly said the code applies to the town’s industrial districts, L Industrial 1, light industry; L Industrial 2, heavy industry; and L Industrial 4. Permitted uses in light industry include banks, agricultural or nursery uses, places of worship, day cares, health clubs, manufacturing within a building, offices and warehouse spaces, while uses in heavy industry include manufacturing of asphalt, cement fertilizers, and chemicals; junkyards; farmers markets and stockyards. L4 districts deal solely with the generation, transmission and distribution of electrical energy.

“The intent of this section [is] to provide adequate safeguards for the location, siting and operation of solar production facilities,” the code states.

The day before the Town Board’s adoption, a state Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit against the town, its planning board and zoning board of appeals that sought to overturn the town’s approvals for a solar-energy production facility in Shoreham.

Eight Shoreham residents listed under the community group Shoreham Wading River Advocates for Justice filed the lawsuit in November against the town entities, along with sPower, a renewable energy company based in Utah and California, and utilities PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Power Authority. sPower has an agreement to sell power generated at a future 50,000-solar panel facility, located on the DeLalio Sod Farm, to PSEG. Many residents who live near the farm have advocated against it, saying the project is too large for a residential area.

Calone said he believes the new solar code, which outlines where the solar arrays should be located, will lead to new projects being welcomed to communities.

The total coverage of solar panels cannot exceed 60 percent of the lot area and freestanding panels cannot reach more than 20 feet above the ground, according to the code, which also adds buffer and setback restrictions. In addition, the code outlines design standards for the solar panels.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked Calone and Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island), who worked with the county on the code.

“The one thing that is so beneficial is getting uniform code that can apply to all 10 towns so there is no guessing,” Romaine said. “It isn’t different from one town to another. It makes it simple for alternative energy to move forward.”