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Luminati says solar panels near EPCAL may impact aircraft

A proposal to build a solar panel field in Calverton has run into questions about whether glare from the panels will impact aircraft landing at the runways at Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Luminati Aerospace, which is manufacturing unmanned aerial vehicles at EPCAL, raised the issue at the Dec. 1 Planning Board hearing. The proposal by Utah-based sPower is slated for 109 acres south of Route 25, which is currently a sod farm. The same company recently built a solar farm on 45 acres on the east side of Edwards Avenue in Calverton.

Robert Lutz, the chief test pilot for Luminati Aerospace, brought up the glare issue, asking that it be studied not only for the active 10,000 foot runway at EPCAL, but also for the inactive 7,000 foot runway, which Luminati has expressed interest in buying at some point.

“The approach [to the runway] is the most critical phase,” Mr. Lutz said. He expressed concern that the runways at EPCAL could be “rendered unusable” by the glare issue.

Logan Craig of sPower said they had studied both runways.

The solar panels are not proposed to be on the EPCAL property, but would be located slightly to the east.

Luminati subsequently submitted a letter to the Planning Board saying that it had looked at sPower’s study and concluded, “It is the position of Luminati Aerospace that, in its currently proposed location and orientation, the proposed solar farm will create glare hazard to pilots and significantly devalue a town asset.”

At Thursday’s Planning Board meeting, sPower brought in Phil DeVita of Harris Miller & Hanson, which had performed a supplemental study of the glare.

Mr. DeVita said that project’s located off airport property are not required to a do a glare study, but sPower agreed to do one anyway.

The study concluded that no glare was detected at any of the observation points along either runway or from the control tower, which is now privately owned, and that the proposed design meets Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Mr. Lutz was present but did not comment on that study, which he had not seen prior to the meeting.

sPower plans to build a 40-megawatt solar panel field on the 109 acres, with the energy generated there being sent back east through an underground transmission line that would cross under Edwards Avenue and connect into the PSEG-LI grid at the existing Edwards Avenue project. The applicant has easements from several neighboring property owners to allow the line to cross their properties.

Planning Board members also have raised concerns about the loss of farmland to solar panels, even though the land is zoned for industrial use. This will be the third solar panel project in Calverton on land that had been used for a sod farm.

“I’m very concerned about the loss of agricultural in this very concentrated area,” said Planning Board chair Stan Carey.

John Moran of sPower said that the solar panel field is expected to pay more than $800,000 in property taxes and Payments in Lieu of Taxes to the school district, town and other taxing jurisdictions.

The Edwards Avenue solar panel field is due to pay $117,466 in property taxes for 2017 and has already paid $144,952 in PILOTs, for a total of $252,418.

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