Planning board to reopen environmental review on solar project

The Riverhead Planning Board is reopening an environmental review into a solar facility in Calverton owned by sPower.

“The Planning Board became aware of a massive 36-megawatt solar facility on 290 acres proposed by sPower,” said Planning Board chairman Stan Carey. “The Planning Board later learned that this project was submitted to New York State under a new regulation, called Article 10, the day after the Planning Board accepted sPower’s environmental impact statement for a nearby project.”

Riverhead Solar 2, the proposed 36-megawatt facility, is the project in question, and is adjacent to Riverhead Solar 1. That includes both the current facility operating on the east side of Edwards Avenue and the second farm planned for the south of Route 25 and west of Edwards Avenue.

The board voted unanimously to reopen the State Environmental Quality Review for Riverhead Solar 1, and require sPower to submit a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project.

A state law enacted in 2011 gave authority to the state to review solar power facilities with a capacity of over 25 megawatts, removing authority from local municipalities. Since sPower’s newest proposal is 36 megawatts, it constitutes a major project requiring the state-level review rather than town-level.

“The SEQRA process specifically asked sPower to identify any other projects that may have an impact on the Solar 1 project,” Mr. Carey said at Thursday’s meeting. He added that this could be confirmed by reviewing the Planning Board minutes from Dec. 15, 2016, Jan. 19, 2017, and Oct. 19, 2017.

“The Planning Board was told no other project would use the gen-tie line and no other projects were planned, or, at the very least, communicated to the Planning Board,” he said.

In March, sPower project manager John Moran outlined plans for a third solar farm to link the three projects. He spoke at two public informational meetings on the proposal as required by the state.

Mr. Carey also said Thursday that the board will send a letter to the building department recommending they suspend the building permit until the supplemental environmental impact statement is complete. He added that both the resolution and memo will be sent to the New York State Board of Electric Generation during its open comment period.

“In my opinion this is a lack of information sharing by sPower, and possibly, willful misrepresentation with an intent to deceive. But at the very least, they were certainly not forthcoming,” Mr. Carey said.

Earlier Thursday morning, the Town Board met to discuss comments that will be sent to the state and the applicant for the proposed facility, and expressed concern for safety issues at the site of the conduit that will run under Edwards Avenue. Drainage issues were also discussed.

“What if that fails? Who is responsible for the maintenance of the road around that conduit, because we own the road,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith asked a question that has been brought up at many other discussions.

“What is the community benefit that is realized by the Town for doing this?” she asked. She also asked if this would hinder other businesses on Edwards Avenue from installing solar panels of their own.

Town Board comments will be finalized Friday and sent to the applicants and New York State for review. A 60-day public comment period will follow, once a formal application is filed.

A full list of comments will be available on the Town’s website.

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