SPower, the entity seeking to construct a 9.5 MW solar electrical generating facility on a 60 acre portion of the Delalio sod farm in Shoreham, along Route 25A, recently sent a brochure to the community touting the environmental benefits of the project, its ability to eliminate fluctuating prices for electricity during peak usage, its benefits for the environment, and why a buffer of trees around the facility will “protect the local viewshed and maintain the rural character of the area.” How can anyone be against this project and doesn’t opposing it make you “anti-environment”? Opposition to this project is based on there being a better solar alternative that won’t eliminate altogether 60 acres of open space, the existing viewshed, and the existing agricultural use which the Brookhaven Town Code’s Planned Conservation Overlay District expressly states must be preserved. Putting solar panels on roof tops (“distributed solar power”) can provide the same benefits to the environment, without the adverse impacts caused by huge commercial projects, at a fraction of the cost to LIPA and its ratepayers. Supporting distributed solar power is most assuredly a pro-environment position.
PSEG-LI recently concluded that the reliability of LIPA’s electrical system can be maintained without additional power sources until 2024. Why then are LIPA and PSEG-LI moving full speed ahead with negotiating 11 Power Purchase Agreements (“PPAs”) for 122.1 MW of commercial solar power at significantly inflated cost compared to purchasing power on the open market, and say they will soon release a new Request for Proposals for another 160 MW of commercial solar power? These PPAs will require LIPA to purchase all the power from these commercial facilities for 20 years at a fixed cost of approximately $0.17 per kWh, more than twice the cost of power on the open market. After 20 years, LIPA and its ratepayers will pay approximately $360,000,000 more for the commercial solar power than they would for open market power. The proposed 9.5 MW solar facility proposed by SPower in Shoreham is even worse – LIPA has guaranteed it will pay SPower $0.22 per kWh generated for the next 20 years, almost three times the cost of power on the open market.
The State has set a goal of having 20% of power from renewable sources by 2025. But why rush into commercial solar contracts at high prices now when that goal may be able to be achieved by 2025 with rooftop solar systems at a fraction of the cost to LIPA, and without any of the negative aspects of commercial solar systems such as high energy cost, and loss of large tracts of open space? LIPA expects to eliminate rebate incentives for rooftop solar systems altogether within two years because the cost will be low enough so that incentives no longer will be needed to encourage rooftop systems to be installed. LIPA will then receive all the power from these rooftop solar systems at virtually no cost to LIPA. Nevertheless, LIPA prefers the long term high priced contracts because it wants to avoid the loss of revenues suffered when power from solar systems installed on roofs is credited to the system owner.
Dare I say anything negative about solar? It is crazy to rush into overpriced 20 year contracts for commercial solar power when no more power is needed for at least ten years. If enough people install solar systems on their roofs in the next few years, the length of time until more power is needed by LIPA to maintain reliability will be further extended, and the power from the commercial solar systems may no longer be needed. Regardless, ratepayers will pay the inflated cost for commercial solar for twenty years if these 20-year contracts are signed.
Whether LIPA likes it or not, the ever declining cost of rooftop solar systems and the increasing efficiency of lighting and appliances will cause LIPA to lose more revenue every year. Whatever the solution to this problem may be, the answer cannot be to enter into 20 year fixed contracts at inflated prices for solar power that may never be needed. Indeed, if you examine your monthly LIPA bill, and divide the monthly charge by the number of kWhs you used, you will see that you are paying about $0.22 per kWh to LIPA to cover all of its monthly costs for power, transmission lines, maintenance, taxes, and revenue lost from renewable energy and energy efficiency. Only a fraction of what you pay goes to pay for electricity. By agreeing to pay SPower $0.22 per kWh for all the solar power it generates for the next 20 years, however, LIPA will then have to find the funds to cover all the other costs it has for expenses other than acquisition of electricity. At the end of the day, the ratepayers will have to pay for this shortfall.
In addition, when LIPA agrees to purchase solar power from huge commercial developers like SPower, the money spent goes out of State. When local companies install roof-top systems, the money goes to local companies, and the money saved by the owners of roof-top systems by reason of their monthly LIPA charges being significantly reduced gets spent right here, in our communities.
One of the arguments made in the lawsuit challenging LIPA’s and PSEG-LI’s approval of a PPA for SPower’s 9.5 MW commercial solar system is that the approval occurred without any environmental review at all. If a Draft Environmental Impact Statement had been prepared, alternatives, such as distributed rooftop solar systems, would have had to be considered in depth. No such review took place.
LIPA and PSEG-LI have the luxury of time. The commercial solar projects and their long term inflated costs can wait; proper planning must come first. Slow down – and get it right.