Pictured Above: The sPower Sutter and Sterlington solar farm on Edwards Avenue (foreground) with the GES solar farm in the background. | Borrego Solar photo
With two major solar projects currently under review in Calverton, the Riverhead Town Board has proposed a year-long moratorium on new solar farm applications.
The board will hold a public hearing on the moratorium at its Tuesday, Sept. 1 meeting at 2 p.m.
In 2014, Riverhead Town amended its code to allow commercial solar energy production systems by special permit in industrial zoning districts. Much of the farmland south of Route 25 in Calverton is zoned for industrial use.
An electric substation on Edwards Avenue in Calverton has since lured solar farm developers to the area — there are already three solar farms near the substation, and two more are under review.
The projects currently under review, the 36-megawatt Riverhead II solar farm and a 22.9 megawatt proposal called L.I. Solar Generation, which are the largest pitched to date, would be exempt from the moratorium, Riverhead Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz told the town board at its Aug. 13 work session.
If they are built, 656 acres in Calverton would be devoted to solar production.
The largest of the proposed projects, the 290-acre, 36 megawatt Riverhead II solar farm, is currently being reviewed by New York State, said Mr. Kozakiewicz. Projects of greater than 25 megawatts are reviewed by the state through its Article 10 process and not by the town.
The 20 megawatt sPower Riverhead I solar farm west of Edwards Avenue was already approved by Riverhead’s planning board, along with another 6.3 megawatt project on the east side of Edwards Avenue built by sPower Sutter and Sterlington.
A 3.9 megawatt facility also built by Borrego Solar Systems, Inc. and financed by GES just south of the Riverhead Charter School has also been built.
Last fall, National Grid and NextEra Energy pitched the 22.9 megawatt project known as L.I. Solar Generation on 198 acres that include active farmland and the Long Island Sports Park on the west side of Edwards Avenue.
The proposal greatly concerned town board members, who were worried the continued growth of the solar farm industry could push out growers and other land uses.
Mr. Kozakiewicz said the developers of the L.I. Solar Generation project had been asking the town board for a public hearing for quite some time, and the board could face legal troubles if it doesn’t continue to review the project. He urged the board to exclude that project from the moratorium.
The moratorium is designed to give the town time to complete an update to its comprehensive plan.
According to the comprehensive plan update’s draft chapter on land ethics, Riverhead had 38 percent of Suffolk County’s farmland in 1996 – 17,662 acres.
“These figures indicate that Riverhead has a critical role to play in the protection of prime agricultural lands in eastern Long Island,” according to the document.
“The influx of these solar energy development applications going forward under the existing policies and procedures will impair the effectiveness of proposed changes… (and) will further exacerbate the loss of agricultural and natural resources sought to be preserved thought the implementation of the forthcoming update,” according to the language of the proposed moratorium.
The moratorium would exclude projects either solicited by the town or in designated urban renewal areas, which include the Enterprise Park at Calverton.
“In short, sound planning will lead to a higher quality of life for all of Riverhead’s citizens,” according to the language of the moratorium. “By briefly pausing for one year period, rather than for a longer period of several years or more, in order to enact the recommendations of the plan for agriculture in the Town of Riverhead, the town is making an important investment for the future and upholding its commitments and obligations to its citizens.”
Town Councilman Tim Hubbard, who raised objections last fall to the L.I. Solar Generation plan, said at the Aug. 13 work session that he’d “rather see 12 years” of moratoriums on solar farms, and said he’d be interested in solar “when solar companies can show the town our residents will directly benefit from our land.”
“My second concern is decommissioning 20 years from now and what are we doing for the future of our planet?” he added.
Councilwoman Catherine Kent added that she “always hears complaints from residents that we’re putting in solar energy that’s going to the South Fork in the summer months.”
She added that she thought the board was going to take a harder look at the L.I. Solar Generation plan but “I hear across the board that we cave in because ‘we might get sued.’”
“I don’t think it’s a might. i think it’s an absolute,” said Mr. Hubbard. “I’m pretty sure that would happen.”
Also in play is New York State’s work to streamline its solar farm review process, currently known as Article 10, said Mr. Kozakiewicz. A new proposed state law, called 94-C, would make it easier for the state to green-light solar farms.
“If that happens, all this would be moot,” he said.