Landfill pitched as solar farm alternative
Brookhaven Town met with Middle Island Solar Farm officials hoping for a Thanksgiving gift last week, that is, an alternative to the proposed tree takedown.
Would they consider utilizing landfill space instead?
The meeting took place last Wednesday, Nov. 22, at Town Hall.
“We did indicate we would be willing to possibly swap property of that nature for landfill space,” said Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine.
“They expressed some interest, but we have to talk about changing properties. So we’re serious about the offer. We are pursuing that. Our goal is to prevent this land from becoming bulldozed.”
Gerald Rosengarten, managing partner of Middle Island Solar Farm, who attended the meeting, told the Advance, “I would be interested in doing something at the landfill, but we have a contract with LIPA for 19.6 MW and that would require all my acreage.”
Rosengarten said he was offered less than the allowed lot coverage he has on his land now for a solar project at the landfill, with a possible increase for more next year. “We’re keeping 40 acres untouched,” he said of the MISF project at his site. “The picture [you published] is what you’ll see from the road.”
The property in question is a 100-acre L-1 District parcel on Moriches-Middle Island Road across from a Brookhaven Highway yard. The solar farm is a permissible use, with a county solar code requiring 35 percent of open space preserved, but the town requirement includes 19.6 megawatts of renewable solar energy. Town Planning postponed a Nov. 6 and a Nov. 20 decision on the project’s phasing plan based on a recommendation from Brookhaven Town’s Department of Environmental Protection that the phased plan should not be approved because the applicant did not have the required power purchase agreements, citing an Oct. 20 email from Karl Jesaitis, PE, of PSGELI. The email stated the PPAs for the MISF site total 14.65 MW.
Rosengarten, who came to the Long Island Advance offices to discuss the project with Karen Imus, managing director of Connelly, McLaughlin & Woloz, on Tuesday, was asked about the PPA sticking point.
“We have 19.6 MW,” he said. “It was proven in a [Coordinated Electric System Interconnection Review]. As of that Oct. 20 email, now PSEG went back and said 19.6 MW was available.”
Rosengarten was asked to provide a document; Imus, spokesperson for the project, forwarded an electronic data table from a CESIR study showing two Total STC DC System Size, one for 14.364MW Fit 1, the other 5.2983 MW for Fit 2. “These are both power purchase agreements with PSEG,” said Imus. “These were separate agreements we were awarded.”
But despite demands of the town, Rosengarten has not demonstrated the required PPAs obtained so far from PSEG.
The 100-acre wooded lot at issue has been owned by Howard Rosengarten since 1986. His brother, Gerald Rosengarten, is managing partner of Middle Island Solar Farm LLC.
Gerald Rosengarten admitted he made the worst presentation years ago for a green community on the parcel; it required a variance and never got any further than the presentation. Eventually, he sought out the solar farm concept, the first privately funded, he said. It coincided with Gov. Andrew Cuomo issuing calls for more renewable energy.
Cuomo is currently sitting on a bill championed by state Sen. Ken LaValle and Assemb. Steve Englebright, which passed in both houses, to expand the core preservation area of the central Pine Barrens with Shoreham/Wading River property of 820 acres and the Middle Island Solar Farm parcel. Romaine signed an endorsement with the bill.
Rosengarten was asked if he hired lobbyists to convince Cuomo to nix the bill and spare his property. “Yes,” he said, pointing to Imus; another lobbyist was in Albany.
Rosengarten insists his property, bounded on each side by woods that have been preserved, aren’t pine barrens, but environmental groups like the Long Island Pine Barrens Society debunk this. The second-largest undeveloped and unprotected parcel remaining in the entire Forge River watershed, its woodlands are comprised of tree species typical of upland habitats of the pine barrens such as pitch pine, scarlet oak and black oak; animal species including the great horned owl; many bird species including whippoorwill; as well as foxes, and a host of other creatures including the federally threatened northern long-eared bat.
“If it’s pitch pine and scrub oak, it’s pine barrens,” stated Long Island Pine Barrens executive director Richard Amper. “This is not subject to an opinion. It’s a matter of fact and Rosengarten says he’s an environmentalist and he can’t recognize this when he sees it. Municipalities across the country are supporting solar on landfills, so what’s the problem, unless you want to cut down pine barrens?”
A large swath of municipalities across the country, both closed and operating, are utilizing landfills for solar power. Massachusetts has dozens of solar projects including the Greenwood Street Landfill in Worcester, Mass., which covers the top plateau, around 25 acres. Belfast, Maine has one with two rows of solar panels measuring 7,200 square feet. Solar projects in landfills include Rutland and Coventry, Vt.
Rosengarten, who said the plan has three phases, noted project efforts, among them low-growing vegetation placed underneath solar panels for soil stability; the area between the arrays, sides of the roads and between fences will be grass and 54.18 acres of the disturbed area will be re-vegetated with no pesticide or herbicide usage. A 4,000-square-foot utility building is going in.
But the project has become a battle cry for environmentalists, who want to preserve the parcel. The Forge River is coming back because of land preservation efforts, pointed out ABCO president MaryAnn Johnston.
“From 10 years ago, he always knew there was no support from the community,” said Johnston of Rosengarten. “His first project was four apartment buildings right on that land, then he came forward with warehouses to the Manor Park Civic Association. They never got to an application. If we cannot stop this, we can’t save the Forge River; the contributing area is less than 600 acres.”
The town is currently being litigated against by ABCO and the Long Island Pine Barrens in an Article 78.
MISF does have its supporters, Renewable Energy Long Island, New York League of Conservation Voters, Alliance for Clean Energy and Natural Resources Defense Council among them.
Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito, who supported Rosengarten’s project, provided this comment when told about the landfill offer from the town.
“The town should swap ample acres from the landfill to the applicant and then the problem is solved,” she said candidly. “Citizens Campaign for the Environment supports land preservation and solar and was deeply concerned that without an option to build solar, that was the wrong message. I want to preserve more land across New York State than the Nature Conservancy.”
Rosengarten was approached in the past to sell the land. Legis. Kate Browning and Romaine contacted Rosengarten about partnering on a county/town preservation offer last year, but a response letter by Rosengarten attorney Eric Russo of Van Brunt, Juzwiak & Russo P.C. commented that the lack of offers before that time indicated to them there was no interest and no public money available.
Romaine said he would do a landfill deal even if the bill is approved by the governor.
“My best hope is that the governor signs the bill,” Romaine said. “Even if he does, we would talk about a potential swap. We have one simple goal — to preserve that property from being bulldozed.”
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