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In split vote, Town Board approves special permit for NextEra’s solar energy production facility

In a split vote on Tuesday, the Riverhead Town Board approved a special permit to allow Long Island Solar Generations LLC, also known as NextEra, to build a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on 197 acres off Edwards Avenue and River Road in Calverton.

Councilman Tim Hubbard voted against the resolution and Councilwoman Catherine Kent abstained.

The project will also need site plan approval from the town Planning Board. 

Several speakers from the audience were also critical of the vote. 

Mike Foley of Riverhead said the board gave away its leverage in the deal by giving NextEra an automatic 10-year extension on the 20-year agreement, simply because they have a 30-year agreement with PSEG Long Island. 

He also criticized language in the resolution stating that the applicant “shall consider the extension of the recreational trail at EPCAL.”

“That’s a little weak,” Mr. Foley said of the language. 

The Town Board agreed to change that language to say instead that the applicant “shall provide” an easement connecting to the recreation trail. 

The location of the trail extension has yet to be determined because the town wants to avoid clearing additional trees, according to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. 

Ms. Kent opposed giving NextEra a 20-year agreement with two five-year extensions. 

“We should do 20,” she said. “That’s all we’re required to do.”

Mr. Hubbard, who has been critical of solar projects in the past, voted no. 

The approved resolution calls for the town and NextEra to enter into a payment in lieu of taxes agreement and calls for NextEra to pay for an easement from the town across Edwards Avenue in order to install an underground electrical connection to the LIPA substation on the east side of that street.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the town will be paid $56 million over the 30 years of the agreement.

The town and NextEra also entered into a $1.5 million community benefit agreement, which will be outlined in a separate resolution, according to town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

According to Ms. Aguiar, the community benefit agreement will include the following:

• $350,000 to the town for the creation and/or improvement of parks, beaches, and recreational facilities senior and adult projects and nonprofit outreach programs.

• $250,000 to the town for protection, preservation, enhancement and maintenance of the functional integrity of the Peconic River, Long Island Sound and Pine Barrens ecosystem.

• $250,000 for preservation of farmland, open space, undeveloped beach lands or shorelines and establishment or improvement of nature preserves.

• $350,000 to the town to promote and enhance response plans and training for police, fire and emergency/medical ambulance handling of fires, toxic fumes and chemical hazards related to renewable energy, solar sources and/or hazardous events.

• $150,000 to the Riverhead Central School District with the goal of coordinating the efforts of the schools, library and cable/internet providers to offer financial assistance or Wi-Fi study locations to students who lack internet access or for any leadership or career building partnerships or internships.

• $150,000 for job promotion, enhancement, development and training.