Decision on Northville farm’s solar array coming next month

GREENLOGIC COURTESY FILE PHOTO  |  A ground-mounted solar array similar to one that was installed on Gabrielsen Farms' Aquebogue greenhouse.
GREENLOGIC COURTESY FILE PHOTO | A ground-mounted solar array similar to one that was installed on Gabrielsen Farms’ Aquebogue greenhouse.

The owners of a Northville farm will have to wait until next month to find out if they’ll get the variance needed to erect solar panels on site which would be used to sell energy back to power provider PESG-LI.

At Thursday night’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, it appeared as though the board was poised to reject the variance request from the business, Plant Connection, which was first made last month. However after further consideration, the board put the vote on hold and adjourned the vote until Dec. 11.

Plant Connection owners Melissa Daniels and Anthony Caggiano are trying to erect the panels for their business, which they say will permit them to bring in enough revenue — from energy sales to PSEG — to allow them to purchase the land they currently lease and make them profitable in the long run.

But the company has yet to prove that it would run in the red unless it gets the use variance, a problem ZBA member Leroy Barnes voiced Thursday night. It’s also a burden that ZBA attorney Scott DeSimone — who was not present Thursday night — has said in the past is difficult to prove.

“If this is a financial hardship, you have to prove it,” Mr. Barnes said on Thursday to attorney Steve Angel, representing the company.

Mr. Barnes also noted that the board finds itself in a precarious position in ruling on something that the Town Board is currently in the process of legislating. Since August, board members have been discussing how to regulate farms — on land that is zoned agricultural (and taxed as such) — that sell energy: clearly not an agricultural product.

Long Island Farm Bureau executive director Joe Gergela spoke in support of the application on Thursday night, telling the board that “this one application should not be held hostage” while the Town Board figures those rules out.

The regulations come as a federal tax exemption for constructing solar panels sets at the end of 2016, and Plant Connection faces an even tighter deadline.

According to Mr. Angel, the company — which has reportedly come to terms on a 20-year agreement with PSEG to sell it solar power — has only a week to cut a “sizable” deposit check to the utility company until its deadline passes.

Fred McLaughlin, chairman of the ZBA, said that “It’s another board you have to be talking to, unfortunately … right now, I can’t see this passing.”

Nonetheless, the board adjourned the vote until its Dec. 11 meeting, giving the company enough time to perhaps negotiate an extension with PSEG, and convince the board that a use variance is, in fact, needed.