Conservation groups create roadmap for large-scale solar development for Long Island, New York

“The Long Island Solar Roadmap,” a new report and interactive online map from The Nature Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife, demonstrates how Long Island, New York could produce more solar electricity than the region uses all year by developing arrays on “low-impact” sites such as parking lots, capped landfills and commercial building rooftops.

Credit: Ipsun Solar

“’The Long Island Solar Roadmap’ provides a path to responsibly add significant amounts of renewable solar energy while preserving our most important open spaces. The climate change we are experiencing now shows that we need to add more solar energy as quickly as possible. We cannot afford to wait for large-scale offshore wind projects whose construction may be caught in bureaucratic delays,” said Peter Gollon, trustee, Long Island Power Authority. “On-island solar will complement that offshore wind when it is built, and in the meantime will provide thousands of good-paying local jobs, as well as low-cost renewable energy for families that cannot have their own rooftop solar.”

The roadmap finds that these solar installations can be deployed without negatively affecting the region’s natural areas, forests or prime farmlands. Public opinion research conducted in 2019 for the report found overwhelming support for solar energy, with 92% of surveyed Long Islanders in favor of solar development in their communities.

To address the effects of stronger storms, flooding and extreme heat due to climate change, New York has adopted legislation requiring 70% of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. Due to its unique geographic position, Long Island enjoys the state’s highest solar resources. Developing even one-quarter of the island’s low-impact solar potential could help meet the state’s critical clean energy goals while delivering an estimated $10 billion in local economic benefits and an additional $5 billion in earnings for workers in the construction industry.

The roadmap reflects the input of a diverse group representing state, local, and county government; the solar industry; farmers; environmental and community organizations; the electric utility; businesses; and academic institutions. These members have worked together since 2018 to design a roadmap for accelerating smart siting of mid- to large-scale solar power on Long Island.

While Long Island already boasts the highest concentration of small, residential solar rooftop installations in the state, the development of mid- to large-scale solar installations would enable more Long Islanders, like renters, to use clean energy in their homes and businesses. The roadmap identifies existing barriers for low-impact solar development as well as the benefits of expanding solar in the region, detailing eight strategies to advance renewable energy development that maximize benefits to the region with minimal environmental impact.

The roadmap’s methodology included three main research components: public opinion research, economic analysis on the costs and benefits of solar development and geospatial analysis.

Spatial data scientists from the Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation used advanced mapping techniques to identify low-impact sites for solar arrays in Nassau and Suffolk counties and show their energy generation potential. The data is now available as a public map and can be used by municipal officials, property owners and solar developers to identify potential sites before solar development in each of Long Island’s 15 cities and towns with the least impact to the environment.

“There is no doubt that we need to deploy more renewable energy around the country, including in densely populated areas like Long Island,” said Joy Page, director of renewable energy and wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife. “Developing solar energy in low-impact low-conflict areas with support of the local communities such as the ones identified by this project is a great way to advance renewable energy without adversely affecting wildlife and habitat.”

News item from The Nature Conservancy