Commercial solar panels are a source of energy for homes...

Commercial solar panels are a source of energy for homes and other properties in Riverhead. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

The Riverhead Town Board is considering a 12-month moratorium on new commercial solar applications as it reviews solar farms and the potential loss of agricultural land, particularly in the Calverton area.

A moratorium will give the town time to consider zoning and planning changes in the traditionally rural area until it adopts an anticipated update to its comprehensive plan, the town said. A public hearing on the matter is set for 2:15 p.m., Sept. 1 during the regular Riverhead Town Board meeting.

“In short, sound planning will lead to a higher quality of life for all of Riverhead’s citizens,” the town states in a public hearing notice. “By briefly pausing for a one-year period … the town is making an important investment for the future and upholding its commitments and obligations to its citizens.”

The town planning board last year requested the town board review the issue after an influx of applications in Calverton. Planning Board chairman Stan Carey stressed that the town is not against solar energy, but is concerned over concentrating the farms in one area.

The applications typically seek to connect to the grid through a PSEG substation on Edwards Avenue, he said.

“We were seeing far too many applications within one region or one ZIP master plan.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar worried that if newer solar technologies emerge, companies could potentially walk away from their leases leaving the town to decommission and dispose of the panels. She also questioned the panels' ability to sustain hurricane winds.

“The possibility of seeing solar panels floating across Edwards Avenue farms is a concern,” she said.

Applicants who have applied for permits prior to Jan. 1, 2020, applicants who apply in response to a town request for proposals and applications in urban renewal areas would be exempt.

There are three operational solar farms in Riverhead Town generating a combined 29.3 megawatts of power, or enough to service nearly 8,000 homes, according to data provided by Riverhead Town planning director Jefferson Murphree.

Application for two farms that would supply nearly 60 additional megawatts are under review.

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