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Supervisor questions need for additional solar project in Calverton

10/28/2016 12:00 PM |

Supervisor Sean Walter criticized a proposal to turn land previously used for agriculture into a solar energy project during Thursday’s Town Board work session.

sPower, the Utah company that recently built a solar energy project on 45 acres on the east side of Edwards Avenue, has proposed a second project father west in Calverton. The proposal calls for an underground tie-in cable that would cross neighboring properties to the east, and then go under Edwards Avenue and tie into sPower’s existing solar panel field.

“My editorial comment is this,” Mr. Walter said. “We live on an island, we have a very finite amount of land, and when you start taking hundreds and hundreds of acres to create electricity, when you have a finite amount of land and finite amount of agriculture, the public has to ask the question: what is better?

“Taking land out of production … or generating electricity?”

In drafting new rules for solar panel fields, town officials specifically prohibited them in agricultural zones. Solar panel fields hadn’t been previously mentioned in the code.

But agriculture is a permitted use in all zones, and the proposed solar energy field is also located on industrial land that is being used as a sod farm.

“When you balance the number of acres vs. the amount of electricity you’re generating on an island, I question the way we’re doing it, but this is the way the state of New York wants it to go,” Mr. Walter said.

The 2015 New York State Energy Plan says that renewable sources, such as solar energy, which currently provide only about 11 percent of the state’s energy, have the potential to meet as much as 40 percent of the state’s energy needs by 2030.

Mr. Walter said the Caithness power plant in Yaphank, a natural gas fired power generating plan, currently generates 10 percent of Long Island’s power on only 20 acres.

Riverhead Town had sought to lure solar energy projects to land it owns at EPCAL, but the one agreement they sought with an energy company never came to fruition, and the town is no longer pursuing solar energy projects for its own land.

John Moran of sPower said they are hoping to get a power purchase agreement with LIPA approved in December.

Councilman John Dunleavy said he was under the impression there wasn’t any more room for solar energy on the existing LIPA substation in Calverton, since sPower and STR Solar, which is located near the Riverhead Charter School, used up all the capacity.

Mr. Moran said the capacity for 13-kilovolt output is used up at the Calverton station, but there is capacity for 138kV output, which is what they plan for the new project. The 138kV output is transmission voltage, compared to distribution voltage, he said.

sPower also said it planned to screen the proposed solar farm with trees, and not a combination of trees and shrubs, as it did with the Edwards Avenue facility.

“Did I mention that the one on Edwards Avenue looks terrible?” Mr. Walter asked.

“Yes, you did,” said Courtney Riley, an engineer representing sPower.

The supervisor had said earlier he hopes the landscaping improves, saying “the weeds in my office are bigger and healthier” than the plants sPower planted as a buffer on Edwards Avenue.

The Town Planning Board also raised complaints about the looks of the Edwards Avenue facility.

The new sPower proposal will need special approval from the Town Board — a Nov. 15 hearing is planned — and a subdivision and site plan approval from the town Planning Board, which has a hearing scheduled for Nov. 3.

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