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Planning Board not ready just yet for a public hearing on proposed solar project

Riverhead Planning Board chair Stan Carey wants LIPA to say how much capacity remains at its Calverton substation before the board agrees to set a public hearing on a proposal from NextEra Energy (aka Calverton Solar Energy Center) for a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on 197.66 acres in Calverton.

NextEra’s proposal calls for a special permit, which the Town Board approved in a split vote in December, and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

That approval called for a $1.5 million community benefit agreement to be paid to the town by NextEra, one of two large solar farm applications that are pending in the Calverton area. Calverton has seen three others built and running in recent years.

“At our Aug. 1, 2019, meeting, we requested a letter from LIPA about how much capacity that substation can handle and how much will be left after that project,” Mr. Carey said at the Planning Board’s Feb. 4 meeting.

They never got a response, he said.

The town has been receiving conflicting information from different solar farm applicants, he said.

“Projects have told us they had to rush because there was no more capacity and they wanted to beat the other company in there,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re asking for this.”

Mr. Carey said two prior solar farm applicants told them capacity was limited at the Calverton substation that NextEra now is looking to use.

“We’re getting conflicting information,” he said.

Steve Losquadro, the attorney for NextEra, told the board he did as they asked.

“We did honor your request to reach out to LIPA and my understanding was that LIPA communicated directly to the town attorney.”

“We had asked for something in writing from them,” Mr. Carey said.

Mr. Losquadro said the email letter “wasn’t shared with me, but I was told about it.”

“There was nothing addressed to us and we are the ones that asked for it,” Mr. Carey said.

“I’m just conveying what I know,” Mr. Losquadro said. “As you might imagine, it’s nothing I or we can control. I can’t dictate what they do.”

Planning Board member George Nunnaro asked Mr. Losquadro if he could provide the board with a copy of the letter that was sent to town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz.

Mr. Losquadro said it wasn’t sent to him but he could ask Mr. Kozakiewicz to share it with the Planning Board.

Greg Bergman, a town planning aide, said he has seen the letter, but it didn’t specifically state how much capacity was left.

Michael Dowling, NextEra’s project director, said “both LIPA and the New York Independent System Operator have confirmed that the substation does have capacity for our project. I believe your question is what is the existing capacity.”

NextEra plans to allow public access to a system of trails on the property. It also has received a wetlands permit from the state, as well as a state Department of Environmental Conservation Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act permit, which will allow the solar panels within the Rivers Act boundaries.

Mr. Carey said the Planning Board is awaiting comments from the town fire marshal on the project before it moves further in the process. The board also will require an easement to allow the electric lines to go under Edwards Avenue, among other things.

“We are moving along as fast as we can,” Mr. Carey said. “I have no problem with the public hearing, but I think it’s a little premature without having some of these.”