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Riverhead Town considering moratorium on solar projects

The Riverhead Town Board is proposing to institute a 12-month moratorium on new solar energy production systems within the town.

The board is expected to schedule a public hearing on the proposal at its meeting Tuesday. 

There are currently three operating solar farms in the town and all of them are in Calverton.  Two other solar farms are under review, but have not yet been approved. 

Both would be exempt from the proposed moratorium, which excludes any commercial solar energy system applications that were filed with the Town of Riverhead — or any other government agency — on or before Jan. 1, 2020.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said one of these, Nextera, should not be exempted from the moratorium. 

Nextera — also known as Long Island Solar Generation — calls for building a 22.9 megawatt solar farm on 197 acres in Calverton.

“Legally, we have to exempt the projects that have done extensive work,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. 

“We do not have to exempt Nextera,” Ms. Kent responded. “They are not vested yet. They don’t have any approvals.” 

The other solar farm still under review is sPower 2, which proposes to product 36 megawatts on 291 acres in Calverton. Because it would generate more than 25 megawatts of power, it is reviewed under the state Public Service Commission’s Article 10 process, rather than by the town. 

“I am not against renewable energy, but I have expressed concerns about solar in our town because we do our share here,” Ms. Kent said. “We have more solar than any other municipality on Long Island and possibly New York. And they all go into one zip code.”

She said Riverhead gets very little out of the solar farms that exist in town. She said most of the energy generated goes to the South Fork. 

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said Nextera should be exempt from the moratorium because it’s been in the process a long time.

“They’ve been trying to get a public hearing since August of 2019 and we haven’t given them one,” he said. 

Mr. Kozakiewicz said the town will likely get sued if it includes Nextera in the moratorium. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he is critical of Nextera’s plan, but that he also thinks including them in the moratorium would lead to litigation. 

Riverhead Town Code prohibits solar panels from being located in agricultural zones. However, all of the solar farms that have been built in Riverhead are built on Industrial zoned properties, which were previously being used as sod farms. 

The three operating solar farms in town, all built within the last seven years, include:

• The STR System solar farm on 13 acres next to the Riverhead Charter School. It generates 3 megawatts of power.

• The sPower solar farm on the 45 acres on the east side of Edwards Avenue, which generates 6.3 megawatts. 

• And The sPower-1 solar farm on 110 acres on the west side of Edwards Avenue, which generates 20 megawatts. 

Combined with two proposed solar plants, they would generate a combined total of 88.2 megawatts on 656 acres, enough to power 18,883.7 houses, according to town officials.