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Riverhead looks to curb clearcutting of trees for solar

As Riverhead Town works to revise its code regulating solar farms, one town council member has suggested a provision limiting the clearing of trees. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio pointed to a Brookhaven Town restriction that forbids clearcutting of wooded areas to provide space for solar panels as something Riverhead should mirror.

“I think that on parcels that are heavily wooded that we should be looking at whether or not we want those properties stripped of the trees to provide for solar and I think that there should be a provision in the code,” Ms. Giglio said at Thursday’s Town Board work session. “We should at least go to public hearing on it.”

Riverhead has become “a hub” for solar in recent years because it has the necessary transmission lines and stations, she said following the work session.

Brookhaven Town amended its code in November, amidst a proposal for a 350-acre solar array on woodland surrounding the decommissioned nuclear plant in Shoreham. Brookhaven’s law provides economic incentives to instead install solar panels on roofs and parking lots, though the Riverhead Town Board did not discuss that provision.

Ms. Giglio suggested the town take a look at just how many wooded parcels can suit solar.

Riverhead allows solar farms to be built only on industrially zoned lots. This excludes “Industrial C” lots, which would need a special permit from the Town Board.

She said the town encourages industrial development on industrial properties.

“I think new energy solutions are definitely needed with the high cost of utilities and we’ll look forward to working with anybody, but I feel it’s important to make sure that if trees are going to be taken down it’s for an industrial development in an industrial zone that’s going to be creating jobs,” she said.

Recently, the town has been also dealing with the issue of whether glare from solar panels will affect aircraft landing at the two runways at Enterprise Park at Calverton, near where Utah-based sPower has proposed a 109-acre solar farm on land which is currently home to a sod farm. Early last month Luminati Aerospace, which is manufacturing unmanned aerial vehicles at EPCAL, raised that concern at a Planning Board hearing.

“If that is a problem we need to be considerate of that,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said at Thursday’s work session.

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