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As Town Board considers extending solar moratorium, some residents say it should include additional uses

Should Riverhead Town extend its one-year moratorium on commercial solar energy production systems — i.e. “solar farms” — by another year?

At a public hearing on that question Tuesday, some officials and residents instead suggested expanding the moratorium to also include uses like anaerobic digesters, battery energy storage systems and commercial warehouse space, all of which have recently been proposed in the town.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said that uses like anaerobic digester and battery energy storage “are things that are new technology and it’s critical for us to look at the impacts.” 

The moratorium on solar farms went into effect Oct. 26, 2021 after the town received a number of applications for large solar farm proposals, almost all of which were in the Calverton area.

The moratorium is scheduled to expire in 12 months from the filing date and the public hearing calls for another 12-month moratorium. 

The moratorium was intended to be addressed in the town’s comprehensive plan update, but town officials fired the company it hired to do that update, and the town now needs to hire another company to finish it.

“The land-use reason for this moratorium is absolutely appropriate,” said resident Mike Foley of Reeves Park. “I just think that confining it to solar is inadequate.”

He said the town’s problems with completing the comprehensive plan are in part due to COVID-19. 

Councilman Ken Rothwell said the town has nothing to show for what it’s done in the year the moratorium has been in place. 

“I think it’s disappointing that there’s been absolutely no work on the solar moratorium at all over the last year,” he said. 

“Twelve months to me is arbitrary,” said Councilman Bob Kern. “I would be in favor of six months and if the comprehensive plan has not addressed this in six months, to then extend it.”

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he believes it will take 12 months before the comprehensive plan is done. 

The town is close to narrowing its choices down to one of two firms to finish the plan. It had publicly interviewed three firms at a recent work session.

One of the remaining firms is charging $800,000 for the work and the other about $300,000, Mr. Hubbard said.

“That’s a big difference and we want to know why,” Mr. Hubbard said. 

Officials hope to have two companies make presentations at a public work session.