Residents agree Riverhead should hold off on approving more solar farms at public hearing

Residents for the most part voiced concerns about allowing additional solar energy farms in Calverton during a public hearing on a proposed 12-month moratorium on new projects before the Riverhead Town Board Tuesday.

The moratorium was originally planned toward the beginning of this year, but was delayed several months by the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic.  

There are currently five solar projects in town — all in Calverton. 

“It seems like a runaway train of solar arrays wanting to land in Calverton.”

Toqui Techun

Three of them are complete and operating, and two more are in the review stage. One of those, sPower 2, is being reviewed by the state Public Service Commission because it is more than 25 megawatts, a threshold that sent the review to the state and not the town. 

sPower 2 and the 22.9 megawatt Nextera project, the two still being reviewed, are also exempt from the moratorium. 

The proposed moratorium gives exemptions to any commercial solar energy system applications that were filed with the Town of Riverhead, or any other governmental agency, on or before January 1, 2020. 

Also exempt from the moratorium are applications submitted in response to a request for proposals made by the Town Board, and applications on land within an urban renewal area. 

Board member Frank Beyrodt, whose family owns a sod farm that will be used for part of sPower 2, said in response to a question that he will not vote on that application. 

Kevin Casey of the Local 25 electricians union said his union opposes any moratorium at this time due to high unemployment and other issues.

“Put this off,” he said. 

But not everyone agreed.

“It seems like a runaway train of solar arrays wanting to land in Calverton,” said Toqui Techun of Calverton. 

She feels the people in the Calverton zip code should be compensated, because the impact of the solar farms is being felt. 

She questioned what happens to the solar panels in 20 years when the technology changes. 

“Solar farms are not good for the environment,” said Ed Graham of Manorville. He said there is “toxic waste” in the panels and that they have no means of getting rid of them. 

This could present a serious problem on Long Island, which has a sole source aquifer, he said. 

“I have some disagreement, obviously, with some of the comments,” said Michael Farrell of sPower. “But I would just point to the permitting process, because it is very robust at the local and state level and I’d recommend people look through that because the impact of solar projects are included in that. We certainly take the impact on the environment very seriously and the panels going in now are basically almost full recyclable and they don’t leak chemicals that are in there.”

Sharon Dunigan of Calverton, in a letter, said that residents of Calverton should get lower electric rates and that the town and schools should put solar panels on the roof of businesses to reduce energy costs. 

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said the town has benefited from a $1.5 million community benefit fund that sPower paid the town in the permitting process. She said that money has been used for the master plan update, for the downtown “pattern book” and for upgrades to the town’s parks. She said the Nextera application will also have a community benefit fund. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard questioned if that money will be worth it in the long run if the solar panels lead to pollution. 

He said most of the power being generated is going to the South Fork. 

The hearing was held open for written comments only until Sept. 11 at 4:30 p.m.