Guest Spot: Why not build solar atop the EPCAL runway?

03/30/2014 8:00 AM |
EPCAL Sandy cars

The western runway at EPCAL in June 2013. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

The Riverhead Town Board recently passed a number of resolutions that “pre-qualify” a several firms to submit proposals for the construction of a solar photovoltaic plant at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. The location of such an installation would be the proposed subdivided lots located near the south end of the 7,000-foot runway.

Although the North Fork Environmental Council certainly supports the use of such green technology to meet our energy needs, we have to wonder why this project cannot be considered for construction on the runway itself. The western runway at EPCAL occupies approximately 30-plus acres and would certainly provide more than a substantial base for the infrastructure for the solar panels.

Extrapolations based on power generation from the BP/Met Life Long Island Solar Farm at Brookhaven National Laboratory indicate that a power plant constructed on the 7,000-foot runway would conservatively supply 7.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This would provide enough renewable power for approximately 800 homes, with maximum solar energy generation occurring during the summer months when the demand for electricity is greatest due to air-conditioning loads. Data provided for the 200-acre solar farm at BNL indicates that a solar farm on the EPCAL runway would offset approximately 5,400 metric tons of carbon annually.

In order to allow the town to subdivide and partially develop land at EPCAL, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is requiring that the town cover the 7,000-foot runway with soil to partially compensate for the clearing and removal of grasslands and trees.

The NFEC questions the wisdom of this proposal.

If my calculations are correct, covering the 30-acre runway with six inches of soil would require depositing approximately 24,000 cubic yards. Assuming an average dump truck capacity of 20 cubic yards means this would require something on the order of 1,200 truckloads. Needless to say, this mandate would be a very expensive endeavor with questionable environmental benefit. One must also ask where all this valuable topsoil would be transported from.

Naturally, the North Fork Environmental Council supports the town’s interest in establishing a solar farm at EPCAL. Such an installation would help meet increasing demand for electricity and help New York reach the goal of producing 30 percent of its energy needs through renewable means by 2015.

But why not use the runway for the solar farm and preserve 30 acres of trees or grassland elsewhere?

bartunek_George Bartunek is a Riverhead resident and vice president of the North Fork Environmental Council.

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