Guest Column: Why can’t the town bring solar to EPCAL?


Six long years ago, this Town Board declared the development of EPCAL to be “priority number one.” Six years later, we don’t have a completed subdivision at EPCAL or even an application before the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

If you’re like me, you’re tired of empty talk, endless studies and grand plans for the former Grumman property. You want to see results and you want to see them fast. I believe there’s a simple solution for EPCAL’s future that can shine as bright as the noontime sun.

A few weeks ago, along with my running mates, Neil Krupnick and Laura Jens-Smith, I outlined a “Fresh Start” platform for Riverhead’s future, including a proposal for the town to lease a large portion of the EPCAL property to a private company that will turn that land into a state-of-the-art solar park. This can be done immediately with no wrangling with the DEC and no costly consultants.

The town received a responsible $105 million purchase offer for 700 acres at EPCAL. Extrapolated to a 20-year lease, this could have meant $9 million per year in rental income for the town.

Potential lessees have already offered to make PILOT payments to our schools, county, town and special districts. Previously, Riverhead has had on its desk lease terms that would run for 20 years; thus, it could see up to $180 million in income over the life of a solar lease.

Those aren’t pie-in-the-sky numbers. They are transactions that have already been run by Riverhead. We’d get rental income and tax dollars and we’d keep our land. Another exciting feature of this plan is the clean renewable power we would generate, a part of which could be earmarked to reduce the electricity rates of Riverhead ratepayers.

There’s little need to sell the public on the benefits of solar energy. Solar farms have sprung up all across Long Island, including centerpiece projects in Shoreham and at Brookhaven National Lab. There has been some talk about an energy park at EPCAL, but why is it that a private firm has already launched a project on Edwards Avenue and we can’t seem to get out of our own way? Why is Riverhead the last municipality to the solar party? Why are other towns so far ahead of us?

Clean energy, no traffic, fast turnaround, increased tax collections and big dollars for the town’s treasury. What’s the holdup? Why haven’t we done this already? Plain and simple: Our Town Board can’t seem to get out of its own way. For six years now, our board has pursued what I call “touchdown” plans. Their vision for EPCAL calls for big buildings, wide roadways and lots and lots of infrastructure. I believe those plans are expensive and unrealistic. How will we attract big-time companies here when we don’t even have basic sewage and roadways in place? What huge employers are looking to come here? How much will we have to give away in taxes to attract them? I believe EPCAL needs to crawl before it can walk and solar offers us profit potential in the here and now.

Our Town Board doesn’t like to admit it, but Riverhead is the highest-taxed, most indebted, lowest bond-rated town on the East End. Our Community Preservation Fund is bone dry and if it’s not refinanced it could spell economic disaster for our already cash-strapped town. We need cash and we need it fast. I believe it’s time to tap into the clean energy and profit-making potential solar affords us.

The Grumman property was once the place that built the jet fighters that protected our democracy; it was at EPCAL that hardworking men and women helped put a man on the moon.

I believe Calverton can once again give rise to a great idea. All Riverhead needs is a fresh start.

Solar panels on the east side of Edwards Avenue. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)