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Planning Board seeks moratorium on new solar-energy facilities

The Riverhead Planning Board is objecting to the Town Board’s request to take the lead in the review of a new solar farm, and also is calling for a moratorium on new solar-energy production facilities until a study can be done to determine the best location for solar farms.

On May 22, The Town Board voted to request what’s known as “lead agency” in the review of Nextera Energy Resources’ proposed Calverton Solar Energy Center.

That project calls for construction of a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility — often called a solar farm — on two properties west of Edwards Avenue in Calverton.

At that same May 22 meeting, the Town Board voted to execute the receipt of $1 million as part of  “community benefits agreement” with sPower Solar, which is building a 20-megawatt solar farm on about 165 acres west of Edwards Avenue and south of 4153 Middle County Road, totaling 197 acres.

Planning Board chairman Stan Carey questioned why the Town Board wants to lead the review of the Nextera proposal.

“We’ve done all of the solar project reviews in the past,” he said at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting. There has been six solar projects on a total of 820 acres recently proposed or approved in the vicinity of Edwards Avenue.

The Town Board is also planning to allow solar panels on its former Youngs Avenue landfill site in Calverton.

The town’s zoning prohibits solar farms from agricultural zones, and limits them to industrially zoned lands.

But most of the solar farms that have been approved are located on industrially zoned property that is being used for sod farms.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said that since it has approval power over the special permit application for Nextera, it should have the lead in the review of the project because the site plan can’t be approved with the special permit.

She said she doesn’t favor a moratorium on solar projects because they are being proposed in zones that permit it, as well as on land that’s already cleared. Still, she said she welcomes the Planning Board to speak with her and bring forth their concerns.

Four of the five Planning Board members voted with Mr. Carey to send a memo to the Town Board asking that it enact a moratorium on solar farms, and that it give lead agency status to the Planning Board in the review of Nextera.

With the Town Board and the Planning Board are both seeking lead agency status, the town will have to send a letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner asking that office to decide, according to Town Planning Aide Greg Bergman.

“It’s not that any of us are opposed to solar, but the general concern is with how fast these applications are coming in and how many have been approved in one region of the town,” Mr. Carey said. He said they have yet to receive an answer as to whether permits were needed for the expansion of a PSEG substation in the area.

Planning Board member Ed Densieski was the only member of the board to oppose the moratorium and the request for lead agency.

He said the negatives of solar farms is that they don’t create jobs once construction is done, but the positives include that they make payments in lieu of taxes, they don’t put kids in the schools, and they are quiet and don’t pollute.

“But the biggest reason I support solar farms is because I support people’s property rights,” Mr. Densieski said. “If it’s zoned that way, they have the right to do it.”

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