Aerial view of a portion of an sPower solar array off Edwards Avenue in Calverton. Photo: borregosolar.com

A proposal for a new 22.9 megawatt solar facility in Calverton will go forward without further environmental review.

The town board in a 3-2 vote yesterday approved a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act for the commercial solar facility, proposed by L.I. Solar Generation to be built on 198 acres on the west side of Edwards Avenue. The negative declaration means that the application can proceed without the preparation of an environmental impact statement.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Councilwoman Catherine Kent both opposed the negative declaration, arguing for additional environmental review.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he is comfortable with the level of review the application has been given and agreed to move the application forward. However, he reiterated his prior statement in opposition to any additional commercial solar power facilities in Calverton.

Hubbard joined with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and then-Councilman James Wooten in November to call a special town board meeting for the purpose of issuing the negative declaration.

However, during that special meeting — which grew contentious, with Giglio accusing then-Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith of holding up the application — Hubbard moved to table the resolution after he realized he had not seen a full environmental assessment form for the application.

LI Solar Generation’s site plan and special permit applications, including a long-form environmental assessment form, were filed with the town in September 2018. A planning department staff report was completed by planning aide Greg Bergmann in April 2019. After a town board work session meeting with representatives of LI Solar Generation and its attorney, Stephen Losquadro, the town board classified the application as a “Type 1” action under SEQRA.

Riverhead’s planning department staff recommended the negative declaration. Kent and Aguiar — like her predecessor — disagreed.

“We should assess 130,000 panels on Edwards Avenue and the purpose of SEQRA is to ensure the environment stays safe in case of a hurricane or fire,” Aguiar said before voting no yesterday.

Kent said while she is in favor of solar energy, she has a problem with “the town circumventing the process.”

“I’m concerned we didn’t do a complete study on this,” Kent said, citing two previous applications that were required to submit to a more extensive review.

The town previously issued a positive declaration and required an environmental impact study for the 20-megawatt Riverhad Solar 1 facility in Calverton. The 36-megawatt Riverhead Solar 2 project is being reviewed by the State Public Service Commission, which has jurisdiction over the application because the production facility exceeds 25 megawatts.

The application by LI Solar Generation, a joint venture of NextEra Energy Resources and National Grid, seeks to develop the commercial solar energy facility on two industrially zoned parcels on the west side of Edwards Avenue. One of the parcels is the 82.5-acre former Calverton Links golf course, where Long Island Sports Park is now located. The other parcel is 115.2 acres of mostly farmland.

The application requires a special permit from the town board and site plan approval by the planning board. The planning board initially sought to contest the town board’s declaration of “lead agency” status — which determines which agency is responsible for “coordinated review” under SEQRA.

But the planning board decided not to seek lead agency status after planning board chairman Stan Carey met with the supervisor about the application. Carey said in an interview in November that the planning board did not want to formally challenge the town board for lead agency status, forcing a decision by the commissioner of the State Department of Environmental Conservation. However, Carey said, the planning board remains concerned about the number of commercial solar facilities being developed in Riverhead.

“Our concern was that these solar developments were happening so fast in one region in the Town of Riverhead and we felt the town didn’t really have a long-term plan,” Carey told RiverheadLOCAL. “We were concerned about Riverhead becoming the solar capital of Long Island without any plan in place.”

The planning board remains concerned that the Calverton substation which these solar facilities will feed into can be expanded by LIPA without any town approvals — allowing for even more acreage in that area to be used for solar energy production, Carey said.

“We don’t know what the capacity of that substation is or how much capacity remains,” Carey said. “The planning board is very concerned about the loss of farmland to solar production and the impacts that will have on agriculture and businesses that support agriculture,” he said. “It just hasn’t been analyzed.”

Riverhead Town Code allows commercial solar energy production systems, by special permit of the town board, in the town’s Light Industrial, Industrial A, Industrial B and Planned Industrial Park (EPCAL) zoning use districts. It also allows commercial solar energy production systems, by special permit of the town board, in the Industrial C zoning use district in Calverton.

The existence of the LIPA substation on Edwards Avenue encourages solar power companies to develop in that vicinity, because they require a connection to the electrical grid.

Local residents have expressed concern about the abundance of commercial solar facility development in Calverton, which already has more than 600 acres of solar “farms” either already built or proposed, including the L.I. Solar Generation plan.

Yesterday, Greater Calverton Civic Association president Toqui Terchun asked the town board to table the resolution granting the negative declaration to afford the civic group an opportunity to have the developer make a presentation to its members. She and other residents lamented not having an opportunity for public input on the proposal.

Hubbard said the town board will hold a public hearing on the special permit application for this facility.

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