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Planning Board grants final site plan approval for latest solar facility in Calverton

Calverton Solar Energy Center, also known as NextEra, was granted final site plan approval by the Riverhead Planning Board Thursday. 

The approval allows the company to built a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on 197 acres on Edwards Avenue and River Road. 

Planning Board chairman Stan Carey cast the lone no-vote on the proposal.

“My reasons are similar to my vote on the preliminary site plan vote,” he said. “There’s not many questions still outstanding.”

The Planning Board had voted against the preliminary site plan for NextEra by a 3-2 vote in May, but then the board held a revote and planning board members Joe Baier and Richard O’Dea reversed course, giving it a 4-1 approval. 

Mr. Carey said at the time that “this has been a flawed process right from the beginning.”

The NextEra proposal needed both special permit approval from the Town Board and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

The Town Board approval came in December and part of the agreement was that NextEra would pay the town $1.5 million in “community benefits.” 

The benefits were specified for uses such as health and welfare, protection of agriculture and open space, and enhancement of police, fire and emergency medical response, among other things.

The agreement called for NextEra to pay the town $750,000 within five business days of the issuance of final approvals for both the special permit and the final site plan, while the other $750,000 would be paid to the town within five business days of the issuance of the temporary certificate of occupancy.

The town and NextEra must enter into a payment in lieu of taxes agreement containing a condition that PILOT payments “shall automatically increase proportionately in the event the improvements, or any part thereof, are altered, modified, replaced, and/or reconstructed such that the capacity to generate power is increased” and that the applicant execute a Community Benefit Agreement with the Town of Riverhead.

The Community Benefits Agreement was signed by Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Ross Groffman, the executive director of LI Solar Generation, LLC, on May 10. 

The proposal also includes installing an underground transmission line in an east-west direction underneath Edwards Avenue in order to connect the site to the existing electrical grid infrastructure.

Steve Losquadro, the attorney for NextEra, said all of the conditions from the preliminary approval have now been met.

In June, the State Office of Renewable Energy Citing approved Riverhead Solar 2, a 36-megawatt solar panel farm on 252 acres south of Route 25 in Calverton. 

Including NextEra, there are now five large solar panel installations in Calverton. 

Officials say they have received calls from other solar companies, but no actual new applications have been proposed. 

Ms. Aguiar said following the Riverhead Solar 2 project that the town should consider having a moratorium on new solar projects in Calverton, something the Town Board had proposed in 2020, but didn’t enact.