Featured Story
03/16/18 6:01am
03/16/2018 6:01 AM

The company that operates a solar farm in Calverton, and plans to begin construction on a second one in June, is now planning a third solar farm that will link the three projects.

sPower currently operates the solar farm on the east side of Edwards Avenue. The second farm is slated for land south of Route 25 and west of Edwards Avenue.

Unlike the first two projects, which required site plan approval from the Riverhead Town Planning Board, the new project faces review from the state Board of Electric Generation Siting and the Environment. Since the project would generate more than 25 megawatts of electricity, under state law, it constitutes a major project requiring the state-level review rather than town-level.

The Edwards Avenue solar panel farm is 45 acres and generates 6.3 megawatts of electricity, according to sPower project manager John Moran. It has a 20-year power purchase agreement with LIPA/PSEG.

The second project, which has yet to receive site plan approval by the Riverhead Town Planning Board, is on 109 acres of land that is currently a DeLea sod farm and is adjacent to the Calverton Industries sand mine property south of Route 25.

It is anticipated to generate 20 megawatts of electricity and would have an easement to allow underground wires to cross over part of the former Calverton Links golf course and an adjacent property, where it would then cross Edwards Avenue to connect with the 45-acre solar farm.

Mr. Moran said they hope to begin construction on the 109-acre project in June and finish work by the end of the year.

This project is proposed to have a 20-year power purchase with LIPA/PSEG that includes two five-year extensions, which sPower is seeking approval for at the outset, Mr. Moran said.

A map showing new proposed solar farm within purple lines. Edwards Avenue is to the west.

The new proposal calls for a 36-megawatt facility on about 250 acres east of the where the second farm would be. It would include the northern half of the former Calverton Links golf course as well as the adjacent property that runs east to Edwards Avenue. It will generate enough energy to power about 8,500 homes, according to sPower.

Two public informational meetings on the new proposal were held Wednesday at the Residence Inn hotel in Riverhead, as required by the state, at which Mr. Moran answered questions about the proposal.

Riverhead Town had itself attempted to lease space at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to a solar company in 2014 and was unsuccessful, with officials saying there was not enough capacity in the nearest LIPA/PSEG substation for additional power.

But Mr. Moran agreed that there is not enough capacity for additional distribution voltage, which is 13-kilovolt output, and which is what the town was seeking. However, there is still capacity for transmission voltage, which is 138-kilovolt, and which is what sPower is seeking to generate in its solar farms.

sPower says the existing Edwards Avenue solar farm will generate $160,000 in property taxes to the Riverhead School District and $100,000 in property taxes to Riverhead Town. sPower says it provides power for 1,000 homes.

The 109-acre project is expected to generate more than $550,000 in school taxes and more than $250,000 in town taxes, which providing electricity to about 3,000 homes, Mr. Moran said.

It will generate about 80 construction jobs, but will only have about three full-time jobs once it’s built, he said.

Will the solar facilities lower people’s electric bills?

Mr. Moran said that over the life of the power purchase agreement, there will be a fixed cost for the electricity going into the grid that will not change over the life the 20 years, whereas other costs that are part of other electricity-generating facilities — such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, etc. — will likely rise due to inflation.

Does the success of solar energy depend on federal subsidies?

Mr. Moran said there is a federal tax credit on the depreciation on the equipment used to construct solar plants, and that credit is due to sunset in the next five years.

“The tax credit did what it was supposed to do,” he said. “It got the industry going. By the time the tax credits are withdrawn the prices of the equipment will be lower.”

He said that in the last 12 years, the price of a solar panel has dropped by 90 percent.

However, the Trump administration recently imposed a 30-percent tariff on the cost of imported solar panels, which will end around the same time as the tax credits, Mr. Moran said.

The solar farms won’t generate many full-time jobs, but they also won’t generate a need for municipal services, such as police, fire and schools, which can impact property taxes, Mr. Moran said.

sPower recently made a public statement at a Riverhead Town Board meeting saying it would pay more than the $40 million that Calverton Aviation & Technology is offering for more than 1,600 acres of town-owned land at EPCAL. Town officials said they have to follow through with a qualified and eligible sponsor hearing, which is scheduled to continue Monday before they can entertain other offers for the EPCAL land.

Nader Ghermezian of CAT was critical of the sPower offer for EPCAL during a presentation CAT made before the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce March 7. He said it will generate no full-time jobs and no economic benefit, saying it would bring “stagnation.”

CAT has said it wants to bring aviation and industrial jobs to EPCAL.

In recent years, Riverhead Town officials have expressed concerns about allowing solar panel installations on farms, and in 2015 changed its zoning code so that solar installations could only be built on industrially zoned lands.

However, farming is a permitted use in every zone, and the three sPower proposals, along with another solar farm built near the Riverhead Charter School, were all built or planned on land that is zoned for industrial uses, but which were being used for sod farms.

Photo caption: John Moran of sPower answers questions at a public informational meeting Wednesday on sPower’s solar plans. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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