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With latest solar projects now approved, Town Board revives moratorium for Calverton

Now that all of the pending solar energy panel applications have been approved, the Riverhead Town Board is reviving the idea of declaring a 12-month moratorium on new solar farm applications within the Calverton zip code of 11933.  

The board discussed the issue at its work session Thursday. 

The Town Board had held a public hearing on such a moratorium in Sept. 1, 2020, but never adopted it. 

At that time, three solar farm applications had already been approved, and two larger applications were still pending.

Since then, the state approved Riverhead Solar 2, a 36-megawatt solar farm on 252 acres south of Route 25 in Calverton, while the Riverhead Town Planning Board last Thursday approved the Calverton Solar Energy Center’s proposal to build a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on 197 acres off Edwards Avenue and River Road in Calverton in a split vote. That proposal is known as NextEra.

There now are 660 acres of land in Riverhead with solar panels on them, and all of them are in the Calverton zip code. 

The town’s zoning limits solar panels to two industrial zones, which are both in Calverton. All of the solar farms also are located on land currently being farmed, even though they are zoned for industrial uses. 

The town’s zoning allows farming everywhere. 

“So much of [solar] came into the town at such a rapid rate, I think it caught the town off guard,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard. He said that with the town’s comprehensive plan being upgraded, it “is the absolute perfect time to put a moratorium on solar farms so we can step back and look at it and address it properly.” 

Councilman Ken Rothwell said the town can discontinue the moratorium if the comprehensive plan update is finished first.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that previously, there were still two pending solar farm applications at the time the moratorium was being considered. She felt the town would have been sued if it tried to apply a moratorium on applications already under review. 

Jefferson Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said there are no current solar panel applications on file at the moment. 

Ms. Aguiar said that makes this “the perfect time” for a moratorium.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she supports the moratorium but is critical of the process. 

“As far as the way all of these transpired, with the solar moratorium, this is disingenuous at best,” she said.

She said there was “push back” on the solar moratorium proposed in 2020 because it didn’t apply to the two largest solar farm applications, NextEra and Riverhead Solar 2. 

“So now we have 660 acres of solar before us, so as far as protecting the people of Calverton, I don’t see that the people of Calverton were protected,” she said.

Ms. Kent said it’s “not coincidental that this moratorium resurfaces after Mr. Losquadro’s project goes through.”

She referred to Steven Losquadro, the attorney representing NextEra, who also served as a parliamentarian at the Riverhead Republican Committee’s nominating convention night in May.