Pictured Above: The sPower Sutter and Sterlington solar farm on Edwards Avenue (foreground) with the GES solar farm in the background. | Borrego Solar photo
The Riverhead Town Board, which is considering a 12-month moratorium on considering solar farm applications after two major projects were proposed in the past year, heard concerns from several residents about the impact the installations are having at its Sept. 1 public hearing on the moratorium.
Solar farms were allowed as a special exception use in industrially zoned areas of the town in 2014, which led to a rush to build the facilities near a new electric substation on Edwards Avenue, in the middle of a vast expanse of Calverton agricultural land that is zoned for industrial use.
In a letter to the town board, Sharon Dunigan of Calverton said she believes solar farms “should be reserved for sod farms or already cleared properties,” that residents of Calverton should be given lower electric rates for allowing the solar farms in their community and that tax revenues on new projects should be earmarked for green projects like putting solar panels on schools and local government buildings, and for walking trails and parks to be incorporated into the solar farm design.
The tax revenues “should not be dumped in the general fund and disappear,” she said.
Ed Graham of Manorville, who runs the website riverheadmagazine.com, which focuses on political issues like “Agenda 21,” a United Nations resolution concerning sustainability that many right wing pundits believe is an attempt to limit personal freedoms, said that the state of California has been experiencing rolling blackouts for the past three weeks because of its reliance on renewable power.
He decried the “toxic waste the panels put off,” adding that lead, zinc and cadmium from the solar panels could pollute the drinking water aquifer under the solar farms.
“These are millions of tons of solar panels, and you can’t bring them to a landfill,” he said. “There’s no way of getting rid of solar panels.”
Mike Farrell, the Senior Manager of Solar Power at sPower, the company proposing the 36-megawatt Riverhead II solar farm currently under review by New York State, said “the permitting process is very robust on both the state and federal level.”
“We certainly take our impact on the environment very, very seriously,” he added. “The panels we’re putting in now are fully recyclable and they don’t leak chemicals.”
Tocqui Terchun of Calverton said for her community, it “feels like a runaway train of solar arrays.”
She added that she would like to see more information about what changes might take place over the 20-year cycle of many of these farms’ Power Purchase Agreements with LIPA.
“Solar is good,” she said. “Let’s make it palatable for residents of Calverton and let’s make it to the good of all of Riverhead. Use it on the rooftops we have.”
Kevin Casey, the Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 25 on Long Island, said he’s glad to hear that the two projects under consideration, Riverhead II and the 22.9-megawatt L.I. Solar Generation proposed by NextEra Energy at the Long Island Sports Park on the west side of Edwards Avenue, are not included in the proposed moratorium.
“With everything going on in the world, I do not believe there should be any moratorium on any construction projects,” he said. “You’ve got unemployment on Long Island at 15 percent, the school district has got problems in Riverhead. This isn’t the time for a moratorium on any kind of construction.”
Riverhead resident Ellen Hoyle asked if Town Board member Frank Beyrodt, whose family is involved with the Delea Sod Farms, which is farming a portion of the proposed Riverhead II solar farm, would benefit financially by the instatement of a moratorium that would effectively quash new competition to that solar farm.
“They’re still farming it,” said Mr. Beyrodt. “My family owns it and I would not vote on it.”
Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town code already makes clear that “you can’t just clear a forest and put solar in.”
She added that the solar projects that have come to Calverton to date have paid $1.5 million in taxes to Riverhead Town, money that has been used to update the master plan and come up with design guidelines for downtown Riverhead, and can be used in the future for improving parks.
“The benefits have helped our town and community, very much so,” she said. “NextEra is going to be doing the very same thing. They’re paying into the community benefit zone also.”
“I don’t support solar. I think we’ve done more than our share in Riverhead,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. “The majority is going to the south side for their grid. :et them put it up over there.”
“I always feel there should be a benefit to our residents,” said Councilwoman Catherine Kent. “We all know the energy bubble exists on the South Fork. Their demand is greater than here, but ironically, Southampton doesn’t zone for solar farms.”
The board will be accepting written comments through Sept. 11 at 4:30 p.m. Comments may be mailed to Town Clerk Diane Wilhelm at Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Ave., Riverhead, NY 11901.