The latest solar farm proposal in Calverton was scrutinized by town board members in a marathon work session Thursday and in the end, it appears that the board majority looking to move the project along last week has crumbled.

“I’m not interested in having any more solar in Riverhead,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said after the meeting.

“It’s not about a neg-dec or a pos-dec,” Hubbard said, referring to the State Environmental Quality Review Act decision before the board. “The question is ‘do we need it?’ What’s the benefit for Riverhead — five, 10, 20 years from now what will have been the benefit to Riverhead?” Hubbard asked.

“We’ve got 400-plus acres of solar already,” Hubbard said. “We’ve done more than our share to participate in green energy.”

There are three already-approved solar farms in Calverton. A fourth, the largest — a 290-acre, 36 megawatt facility — is under review by the State Public Service Department. The new proposal by L.I. Solar Generation, is a 22.9-megawatt facility on approximately 198 acres. All of the commercial solar facilities are in one area of Calverton, in the vicinity of Edwards Avenue, where a LIPA substation is located.

The L.I. Solar project would mean a loss of active farmland, loss of a large recreational facility, and few positives for the town, Hubbard said.

Hubbard’s decision may well mean lights out for the L.I. Solar Generation proposal, since he is likely the deciding vote on the company’s special permit application. Even if Councilman James Wooten, who was absent today, supports the plan with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith and Deputy Supervisor Catherine Kent both indicated today they believe Riverhead has more than its share of solar energy facilities.

Councilman Tim Hubbard listens to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio during the Nov. 21 discussion of the L.I. Solar Generation proposal. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Jens-Smith said she is concerned about the town dedicating too much of its industrially zoned land to solar energy production, which does not product long-term jobs for the community. Also, she said, the proposed project would has impacts on recreation opportunities. One of the parcels is the current site of L.I. Sports Park.

“Industrial C is one of the zones where they can site large recreation,” Jens-Smith said.

“We have to decide how much solar we want in Riverhead,” Kent said.

After more than three hours of reviewing the details of an updated planning department staff report, the environmental assessment form (EAF) for the project and supplemental materials submitted by the applicant with its EAF, the town board didn’t reach a consensus on whether or not to require L.I. Solar Generation to prepare an environmental impact statement.

The planning department staff previously recommended that an environmental impact statement was unnecessary and last week a board majority was prepared to move the project forward. Three council members took the unusual step of calling a special meeting — over the objection of the town supervisor — to act on a resolution dispensing with additional environmental review.

But at a contentious special meeting Nov. 13, Hubbard moved to table a resolution issuing a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act after he realized the board had not seen the full EAF with the planning staff’s analysis.

Chris Corrado of National Grid, left, attorney Stephen Losquadro and Michael Dowling of NextEra Energy during the Nov. 21 town board work session. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The board discussed the potential environmental impacts of the project today — in tedious detail — first with planning staff and then with representatives of L.I. Solar Generation, a joint venture of NextEra Energy and National Grid.

Planning aide Greg Bergman reviewed the details in his updated report, while company representatives and their attorney, Stephen Losquadro, offered responses to questions asked by the board and members of the public at the Nov. 13 meeting.

NextEra project director Michael Dowling addressed concerns voiced at the Nov. 13 meeting about the construction of solar photovoltaic panels and questions about threats posed to the environment by leaching of materials used in their manufacture.

“The panels do not contain cadmium,” Dowling said, answering a charge made last week by Ed Graham of Manorville. “That is incorrect.”

In a written submission provided to the board today, the applicant said, “Solar PV panels consist of glass, polymer, aluminum, copper and semiconductor materials that can be recovered and recycled at the end of their useful life.”

They are built to provide decades of “corrosion-free operation, the applicant said. “Solar cells are encapsulated from air and moisture between two layers of plastic, with a layer of tempered glass and a polymer sheet or industrial laminate.”

Contrary to statements made at the meeting last week, Dowling said, the proposed solar contain neither cadmium nor lead above regulatory protocol that would render them a “hazardous waste.”

Chris Corrado, National Grid’s environmental manager for downstate New York, addressed a statement made last week that the transformers and inverters to be used in the array contain fuel oil. They contain mineral oil, not fuel oil, Corrado said. They are sealed units, he added.

Giglio said the board should rely on its professional staff, which has expert knowledge of the subjects, and accept the staff’s recommendations regarding completeness of the environmental review.

Losquadro said L.I. Solar is trying to get on the LIPA trustees’ December agenda and asked that the town board close environmental review by issuing a negative declaration at its next regular meeting.

“Because of the record that’s been made and the review today
I think we’re ready to move forward,” Losquadro said.

But he didn’t get a commitment from the board, though Giglio indicated she thought there wasn’t much more information that could be analyzed.

“Personally I’d rather be looking at a SEQRA on the project,” Kent said. “We owe it to the community to have a chance to weigh in.”

Jens-Smith said she couldn’t commit to a negative declaration. “It will be up to the town board. We’ll let you know,” she told Losquadro.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor and attorney. Her work has been recognized with numerous journalism awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She was also honored in 2020 with a NY State Senate Woman of Distinction Award for her trailblazing work in local online news. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.