Solar phasing tabled again; Cuomo vetoes bill
Photo: The Middle Island Solar Farm site is still holding for a decision from the planning board on a revised phasing plan.

Courtesy photo

Solar phasing tabled again; Cuomo vetoes bill

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
12/21/2017


 

The Middle Island Solar project phasing plan was tabled for 62 days Monday night by the Brookhaven planning board, the same day Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the pine barrens expansion bill.

The planning board had four recommendations for Middle Island Solar Farm at the meeting on Dec. 18. They were to be shown the power purchase agreements to conform to the originally approved site plan for 19.6 megawatts, they weren’t allowed to produce more than 19.6 megawatts, they could only sell to LIPA and not an outside purchaser, and in the event they couldn’t show the power purchase agreements for the 19.6 megawatts, they would have to come up with a revised site plan.

But a complicated and, at times, confusing discussion ensued that included AD/DC conversions. 

Those representatives speaking for MISF were: Eric Russo of Van Brunt, Juzwiak and Russo; Andrew Speiser of L.K. McLean Associates; Gary Dounson, director of engineering at Sybac Solar; Tom Falz, president of Sybac Solar; Daniel Proculfly of Sybac Solar; and attorney Bob Rosenthal of Greenberg Trauig, as well as MISF managing member Gerald Rosengarten, who came before the board with a revised phasing plan, as well as to prove and explain how they had the necessary original 19.6 megawatts and power purchase agreement; they had so far only proven 14.5 megawatts.

Basically, MISF representatives testified that the 14.5 megawatts translated into the necessary power needed; it was just not explained correctly and they apologized, which was confirmed by MISF attorney Russo.

After lengthy testimony by the MISF advocates and questions by the board, there was no decision and the meeting was closed. “We have 62 days,” said planning board chairman Vincent Pascale, to decide. “We’ll verify their information and statistics.”

So the 100-acre Mastic Woods parcel, between two preserved pine barrens woods, was still holding. 

When asked about the planning board’s concerns, Pascale responded: “The information they gave us from the get-go didn’t match the approval,” he said. “Even their own experts didn’t give the correct info. Apparently, they were misinformed themselves and then came back with information. We were concerned that they were trying to generate more power and sell it off to someone else who wanted to buy that power. That was one of the conditions I just read to you.”

Sybac Solar also came into play; they are a third party and were to put down $1 million, which hadn’t been done.

 “The payment of $1 million has to be made with PSEG/LIPA in order to complete the PPAs with the project,” Russo said the day after the meeting. “By the way, the governor vetoed the bill and the project is live and ready to move.”

Cuomo vetoed New York State Assembly 7722-B – Senate 6157-B, a bipartisan effort that adds preservation additions to the central pine barrens and core preservation area that includes the Middle Island Solar Farm property. Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) championed it and won overwhelming approval.

“The town was working up to 5 p.m. [Monday] night to make it work and the governor vetoed the bill,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine of a deal to swap property for other sites like the landfill. 

MISF representatives were questioned frequently by Pascale, board members, the deputy chairman and by deputy town attorney Beth Reilly. 

At the meeting, Reilly commented on earlier testimony MISF had given. 

“What you’re telling us two months ago is, ‘I had it and I didn’t know it?’” Reilly asked. And deputy chair Steven Wilutis queried, “What are we to believe when experts and attorneys tell us one thing, and a month later, they tell us something else?”

Rosengarten asked to speak. 

“All I ever wanted to do was build a solar farm for the last six years,” he said. “I asked Eric [Russo] to get a yes or no with the last meeting after four hearings. I thought everything was correct and we came back. These are fine gentlemen who did not mean to mislead anyone. We’re under the gun on a lot of bases, one is $1 million. I went into joint venture with Sybac. They’ve been supplying us with this information.”

Rosengarten continued. “I’ve always built as-of-right. This needed some variance for frontage,” he said, commenting how power rules have changed. “We’ve gone through months now; I’m wasting your time.”

Romaine issued a statement regarding Cuomo’s decision, that it was disappointing and a lost opportunity to preserve over 1,000 acres of pristine coastal forest and the headwaters of the Forge River. 

“Brookhaven Town was committed to preserving these lands, and worked right up to the hours before this veto was issued to provide the developer with up to 60 acres of alternative, town-owned sites that did not require the removal of a single tree.  Regrettably, the developer did not respond to these offers, and the governor did not take these alternative sites into account when issuing this veto,” Romaine stated, urging the sponsors, LaValle, Englebright and their colleagues, to resubmit the legislation in the coming session.

But not everyone was unhappy. In a statement, Rosengarten said,  “Gov. Cuomo’s bold leadership today is hope that we will be able to effectively fight Trump-era climate denial and the not-in-my-backyard shortsightedness that would otherwise prevent crucial environmental progress at the most critical time. We cannot afford to ignore the urgent and worsening climate change crisis. We must act now. Our 19.6 MW solar farm will take the equivalent of 7,000 cars off the road and eliminate 28,000 tons of carbon annually.”  

 

Gov. Cuomo’s reasons for veto 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo cited that both of the affected landowners opposed the bill, threatening litigation for an unlawful taking without just compensation, citing the land valued at roughly $100 million, and didn’t see a need to risk exposing the state to projected litigation and potential liability when other options were at hand. “We proposed taking tracts of land out of the bill, adding land elsewhere, swapping land with the private landowners and the local governments, and other possible solutions. Unfortunately, a negotiated resolution proved unworkable. I remain optimistic that a solution can be reached in the coming months that will satisfy all involved,” he said in a statement. He was also directing his administration to work with the bill sponsors for 2018.

Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization president MaryAnn Johnston, who, with the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, civics and others filed an Article 78 against Rosengarten and the town planning board, disagreed with some of the governor’s comments. “The [Middle Island Solar Farm] land isn’t worth anywhere near $100 million, maybe $20 million at most,” she said. “And National Grid has not proposed a lawsuit and backed off a solar farm at the Shoreham Old Growth Coastal Forest, the last one on Long Island.” She emphasized that owners would be compensated by pine barren credits; it was law. Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, confirmed Johnston’s statement and cited Brookhaven Town’s efforts. While clearly disappointed, he said in a statement, he remained optimistic: “I am directing my administration to work with the bill sponsors and other interested stakeholders to formulate a plan to add a commensurate amount of land to the Central Pine Barrens Area and the Core Preservation Area and to advance that plan in the 2018 budget.”  

“The planning board has the opportunity to do the right thing,” Johnston said. “Deny [Rosengarten’s] application and deal with it.”