Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz discusses a possible moratorium on new solar energy projects in Riverhead Town during the town board's Aug. 26 work session. Photo: Alek Lewis

A proposed moratorium on solar projects in Riverhead reared its head in town hall nearly a year after it was tabled by the town board.

Riverhead considered a moratorium on solar projects, which exempted projects that were already in progress — including NextEra’s Calverton Solar Center, which has since received special permit approval from the town board and final site plan approval from the planning board — after residents expressed concerns that solar projects were developing too fast in Calverton. Last September, the moratorium was tabled in a unanimous 4-0 vote after residents, progressive groups and environmental groups advocating for renewable energy spoke out against it.

The moratorium, now partially revised, was back on the town board’s agenda for Thursday’s work session.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said she has received feedback from residents who objected to the visual impacts of solar facilities and asked to stop solar projects.

“I’m happy again to be addressing this with the board,” Aguiar said. “As you recall I had previously, last year, submitted a resolution on a moratorium and I didn’t have the support then and I’m hoping to have the support, because things have changed.”

Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said shortly after it was tabled, he sent a revision to the board reflecting some of the comments made on the proposed moratorium. The revision was not discussed by the board until today. Kozakiewicz said the revision makes it clear that the moratorium only applies to commercial solar energy production and does not ban solar panels that residents can put on their rooftops or in their backyards.

The revised moratorium would put the brakes on processing new commercial solar production facility applications for a year, to allow the town to complete the comprehensive plan update and decide how the town wants to proceed on these projects for the next few decades. If the town adopts the comprehensive plan before the moratorium expires and they conflict, the moratorium can be repealed.

A local moratorium cannot interrupt a state regulatory process, so any application made to the State Office of Renewable Energy Siting would not be caught up in a local moratorium, Kozakiewicz told the board.

Renewable energy projects that generate 25 megawatts or more of electricity fall under the jurisdiction of the State Office of Renewable Energy Siting, a new entity created by the Accelerated Renewable Energy Growth and Community Benefit Act, enacted in 2020 to fast-track renewable energy projects in New York.

The new law authorizes the Office of Renewable Energy Siting, known as ORES, to disregard any local law or ordinance it determines to be “unreasonably burdensome” in light of the renewable energy targets established by the state in 2019 with the enactment of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and the environmental benefits of the proposed major renewable energy facility.

For projects subject to local review, Kozakiewicz said, he believes the moratorium would survive any legal challenges. He cited two reasons. “One, we are in the process of doing a master plan. And two, there has been issues raised with a need to either put a stop to things, to put the brakes on a little bit and allow us to catch our breath in order to allow this particular use to be analyzed,” Kozakiewicz said.

Councilman Tim Hubbard said he has supported a moratorium since the previous administration and is happy to see it back on the agenda now.

“So much solar came into the town at such a rapid rate I think it kind of caught the town off guard,” Hubbard said. “And now with the comprehensive plan being done, I think this is absolutely the perfect time to put a moratorium on solar farms, so we can step back, look at it and address it properly in the comprehensive plan before we decide to move on and get rid of the moratoriums.”

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who made the motion to table the moratorium resolution last September, saying at the time the board needed to take a hard look at it and discuss it at a work session, said yesterday she supports the moratorium and complained that the proposal at this time is “disingenuous at best.”

“The solar moratorium that was brought forward last year, there was pushback on that because it did not include the two major projects that were before us,” Kent said, referring to NextEra/Calverton Solar Center and Riverhead Solar 2, which was already under review by the state. Now both have been approved, she noted. (Riverhead Solar 2 was one of the first two large renewable energy projects approved by ORES, which issued the approvals in June.) At this point, Kent said, the town now has 660 acres of solar arrays in Calverton either already built, under construction or approved. “So as far as protecting the people of Calverton, I don’t see that the people of Calverton were protected,” Kent said.

“And certainly I think that it is not coincidental that this moratorium resurfaces after Mr. Losquadro’s project goes through,” Kent said, referring to Stephen Losquadro, NextEra’s attorney. “Mr. Losquadro actually presided over your nomination,” Kent said to Aguiar, referring to Losquadro’s presence at the Riverhead Republican Committee’s nominating convention in February, in his capacity as the Suffolk County Republican Committee’s attorney. 

Aguiar said the moratorium as originally proposed excluded the two applications then pending. Aguiar said, as she has in the past, that the moratorium could not have included the pending projects because the developers had already spent a significant amount of money and progressed in their applications. The town could be sued, she said, and accused Kent of being unprofessional.

“I am always very professional,” Kent said. “And Mr. Kozakiewicz did not say definitely that those projects couldn’t be included [in the moratorium]… Certainly people need to look at what went down here, because I’m not buying what you’re saying and other people are not either,” Kent said.

“The moratorium got tabled because we said you were going to bring in stakeholders and there was going to be a discussion about this and come up with a plan. None of that happened. So that needs to happen now,” Kent said, proposing that the town board should have a work session with Calverton residents centered around solar projects.

Kozakiewicz said he had looked over the minutes of the previous discussion on the moratorium and did not see any mention of getting stakeholders involved.

That town board discussion actually took place during the board’s Oct. 20 public hearing on the NextEra/Calverton Solar Center special permit application, which occurred about a month after the board tabled the moratorium resolution. In a board discussion during that hearing, Hubbard asked about the status of the moratorium.

“We put it off for two months and it will be coming back in November,” Aguiar told Hubbard at the time.

Then former Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, addressing Hubbard during the NextEra hearing, asked if anybody had formed a committee to meet with the stakeholders.

“That’s the purpose of the moratorium — so we can pump the brakes,” Hubbard answered. “And we can sit down and talk and figure this out. You form that committee after you put a moratorium up. Otherwise, you’re going to have more solar coming in in the meantime,” he said.

Kozakiewicz said during yesterday’s work session he followed up with the revised moratorium to the town board immediately after it was tabled. 

“I did the revision on Sept. 16, believing that it would be looked at by the board and maybe I should have been a little bit more vigilant in pushing the board forward at that time. For that, I apologize,” Kozakiewicz said.

Aguiar it is “perfect timing” for the moratorium now, since there are no pending applications. The board would go forward with the resolution, she said.

Councilman Frank Beyrodt recused himself from the work session discussion, saying that although he has “no interest in any future or any past solar projects personally,” he said, he wanted to stay “consistent.” Beyrodt recused himself from conversations around the moratorium last year. In an interview in April, Beyrodt told RiverheadLOCAL he recused himself from the vote on the solar moratorium because the site of sPower’s Riverhead Solar 1 project — 109 acres in Calverton — was owned by his wife’s father, aunt and cousin.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the past vote on the proposed moratorium.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]