The Sutter and Sterlington solar facilities on Edwards Avenue were the first large facilities in Calverton. Photo: Borrego Solar/sPower.

A 12-month moratorium on commercial solar energy applications in the Town of Riverhead was approved by the town board last night.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the local law that prevents processing new commercial solar applications, with limited exceptions.

Though the vote was unanimous, the subject remained contentious.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent last night reiterated her position that adopting a moratorium after the board approved two major solar projects was “a little too late.”

About 660 acres of land in Calverton are already slated for development with utility-scale solar power facilities in the vicinity of a LIPA substation on Edwards Avenue.

In September 2020, the town board had a public hearing on an earlier version of a moratorium that specifically exempted two applications that had already been submitted and were under review — one by the town and one by the state — that together added 488 acres of the 660 acres of solar arrays in Calverton.

The exemption carved out for the two major projects drew criticism from the community and the councilwoman, though Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the pending applications could not lawfully be included in a moratorium.

The moratorium proposal also drew substantial criticism from a number of environmental and renewable energy advocates and organizations who argued that solar energy is a necessary component of the state’s goals of a minimum of 70% renewable energy sources by 2030 and an emission-free electric grid by 2040 and should not be delayed by local action.

At its next meeting, on Sept. 15, 2020, the board voted 4-0 on Kent’s motion to table a resolution adopting the proposed moratorium. Kent said she wanted the board to discuss it at a work session. During the vote to table Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, asked the board to act on the moratorium in no more than 60 days, citing the potential for addition solar development in Calverton. “I think this matter should be back up on the calendar for 60 days,” she said at the time.

But the proposed moratorium was not back on the board’s agenda for discussion for almost a year, until Aug. 26, after the two solar production facilities pending at the time of the 2020 moratorium proposal — L.I. Solar Center/NextEra facility and Riverhead Solar 2 — had already received final approvals. The NextEra facility had obtained final town approval just a week prior — and the larger Riverhead Solar 2 facility, reviewed by the state because its generating capacity exceeds 25 megawatts, obtained state approval in June.

During the Aug. 26 work session discussion, Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz told the board a local moratorium would not capture any application, such as Riverhead Solar 2, made to the State Office of Renewable Energy Siting anyway.

Calverton residents have repeatedly complained about the concentration of solar arrays in the hamlet. A year ago, the Greater Calverton Civic Association asked the board for an expanded moratorium to include all industrial development in the hamlet.

Some residents who favor broader moratorium pending completion of the town’s comprehensive plan update spoke out again last night. Reeves Park resident Mike Foley asked board members if they would take that up in a separate measure at a later date, asking Kent and Councilman Tim Hubbard in particular if they would support a more expansive moratorium. Kent gave a long response that irritated Aguiar, who told Kent to “stick with the resolutions” and said Kent, who is challenging the supervisor in the next month’s election, was “trying to run her campaign.” That led to a brief, heated interchange between the two opponents.

Hubbard interrupted the argument to answer Foley’s question. He said he is not currently “comfortable with putting a general moratorium out year, until we get further enveloped into the comp plan.” He said the comp plan is the best way to address it. The town’s central advisory committee for the comprehensive plan update met Monday.

“We got some input there,” Hubbard said. “But we’ve got a lot more input to come yet. And I want to hear from that before I would consider doing a moratorium.”

The local law adopting the solar moratorium will take effect upon its filing with the N.Y. secretary of state.

The moratorium excludes or exempts new solar production facility applications submitted in response to a request for proposals issued by the town and applications submitted for property designated as an urban renewal area pursuant to state law, which in the Town of Riverhead includes the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

Also exempt are applications on residential or commercial properties that meet the criteria of energy conservation devices under town code and are not made pursuant to a purchase power agreement, which generally are agreements entered into by commercial energy producers with utility companies.

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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.