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Riverhead Planning Board cries foul, requires new environmental review for already-approved sPower solar facility

The Riverhead Planning Board has reopened the review of the sPower Riverhead Solar-1 project and is requiring the solar energy company to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project.

The board voted unanimously at its meeting Thursday night to approve a measure directing sPower to prepare a supplemental EIS, which Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey said is allowed by the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

Carey said sPower filed a new application for a 36 MW solar generating facility — “Riverhead Solar-2” — with the state Board of Electric Generation the day after the Riverhead Planning Board accepted sPower’s environmental impact statement for the Riverhead Solar-1 Project.

A state law that went into effect in 2011 vests authority in the state board to review and approve solar generation facilities with a rated capacity of over 25 MW, removing all approval authority from the local municipality. The sPower Riverhead Solar-1 project, a 20 MW facility, was approved by the town in June, after a lengthy SEQRA review process by the planning board that culminated in the adoption of a SEQRA findings statement on Oct. 19, 2017. sPower filed the Riverhead Solar-2 application with the state board on Oct. 20.

“The SEQRA process asked sPower to identify any other projects that may have an impact on the sPower one project,” Carey said. “On several occasions the planning board directly asked sPower representatives about the gen-tie lines and the need for many empty conduits,” an angry Carey said, referring to the underground generation tie line that is proposed to cross Edwards Avenue from west to east, connecting the solar generation facility to an existing LIPA substation on the east side of Edwards Avenue. “This can be confirmed by reviewing the Dec. 15, 2016, Jan. 19, 2017 and Oct. 19, 2017 planning board minutes,” Carey said.

“The planning board was told no other project would use the gen-tie line,” Carey said.

“In my opinion, this is a lack of information-sharing by sPower and possible willful misrepresentation with intent to deceive,” the planning board chairman said. “But at the very least they were certainly not forthcoming.”

Carey said the planning board would also deliver to the building department a memorandum recommending that the sPower Riverhead Solar-1 building permit be “suspended while the supplemental EIS is completed.”

He asked planning department staff to make sure the resolution adopted Thursday and the memorandum be filed with the state siting board tomorrow, the deadline for comments on a draft scoping statement filed by sPower with the state board.

The town board on Thursday afternoon discussed comments on the scoping statement it plans to file with the state tomorrow, some of which dealt with the gen-tie line proposed to cross Edwards Avenue, a town-owned road. The town and the solar company have not yet agreed on the terms of an easement, without which the company cannot install the underground generation line.

The planning board’s SEQRA findings statement and site plan approval for Riverhead Solar-1 both specifically stated that the gen-tie line shall be used only for the 20 MW generating facility and no other.

sPower’s application to the state for the 36 MW facility seeks to use the same tie line as the one approved for Riverhead Solar-1.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.