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State approves another solar farm in Calverton as supervisor revives moratorium idea

A new state agency designed to fast track solar and renewable energy projects has done just that, approving a new solar project in Calverton, Riverhead Solar 2, and another in the Livingston County town of Mount Morris, in what state officials say is record time.

On Friday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the approvals, issued by the relatively new New York State Office of Renewable Energy Siting, which was established last year.

Riverhead Solar 2 will be the fifth large solar farm built or proposed in Calverton, where residents have complained about the large number of solar panels and development in general. It is also the biggest, which has concerned officials.

“New York State’s Office of Renewable Energy [Siting] was initiated to ensure review and processing on larger projects such as Riverhead Solar 2,” Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said Monday. “Unfortunately, the office of ORES is a separate state entity, and our Town Board does not have the discretion on large solar projects. This fact is very concerning to me.”

She added: “At this point, I think Riverhead Town, specifically Calverton, has more than its fair share by way of renewable energy, which is why I was in favor of reconsidering the notion of a temporary moratorium on solar field projects in Riverhead Town. I put up a resolution last year, and I was not able to garner support.”

Riverhead Solar 2 is a 36-megawatt solar farm on 252 acres south of Route 25 in Calverton. The upstate project, called the Morris Ridge Solar Energy Center, involves a 177-megawatt solar array and a 83-megawatt battery energy storage facility. Together, these newly approved projects “are expected to generate enough renewable energy to power more than 46,000 New York homes and reduce carbon emissions by over 208,000 metric tons annually, the equivalent of taking more than 41,000 cars off the road every year,” according to the governor. 

Mr. Cuomo said the project approvals were “the fastest large-scale renewable energy project siting in New York State history.”

Because each proposal seeks to generate more than 25 megawatts of power, project reviews had to be done by the state rather than by local municipalities.

The state had originally scheduled two public hearings on Riverhead Solar 2 to take place in November 2020 before the state Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment.

But on the day before the first hearing, attorneys representing Riverhead Solar 2 informed the town that they would be transferring their application to the newly created ORES, which had recently been established to accelerate renewable energy projcts across the state. Both scheduled hearings were canceled. 

ORES then scheduled another public hearing for May 11, 2021, which was conducted electronically through the Webex Events platform and by telephone.

ORES has said it received one comment on the Riverhead Solar 2 application, although its official Summary of Public Comments contradicts that, saying that “no oral or written comments were received with respect to the draft proposal.” 

“I am urging my Town Board colleagues to ensure we look to strike the right balance between renewable energy and preventing oversaturation of solar fields in Calverton,” Ms. Aguiar said. “I have directed the planning department to address solar in our comprehensive plan.”