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Riverhead supervisor proposes full tax rates for solar developers

The massive solar farm that is nearing completion

The massive solar farm that is nearing completion along Edwards Avenue in Calverton, Saturday, April 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter is trying to put the brakes on the hundreds of acres of large commercial solar-energy farms proposed for largely agricultural areas by taxing them at the town's full rate.

Walter, a Republican, said his plan would sharply increase the taxes of the energy companies that own the installations. He said he will introduce a resolution to institute the tax plan this month.

"That may kill a lot of these solar projects but so be it," said Walter, whose office has had numerous requests from solar developers who want to place large solar installations in the town.

The Long Island Power Authority has sought bids for solar projects over the past several years as it works to increase its green-energy portfolio.

Walter said that under state property tax law, school districts and towns can exempt solar installations from paying full property taxes.

Riverhead has negotiated discounted tax rates for two solar farms being built in Calverton, on Edwards Avenue and Route 25. For instance, the $45,000 annual tax payment at the Edwards Avenue site would have been more than $75,000 at full taxes, Walter said.

It is too late to renegotiate those taxes, but Walter said his resolution, if approved, would apply to all new proposals.

A spokeswoman for sPower, which has at least two solar farms planned for the town, didn't respond to a request for comment. PSEG Long Island also didn't immediately provide a comment.

Riverhead was among the first towns to restrict commercial solar development, passing a resolution last year outlawing commercial solar farms on agricultural zoned land. But the town allows them on industrial parcels, including the Edwards Avenue site. Other projects are planned for the same busy road, Walter said.

"Edwards Avenue is going to be wall-to-wall solar," he said. "It's not going to look that great, even with berms and trees. . . . That's what these solar farms look like. They're not the most attractive."

The Suffolk County Planning Commission is developing a commercial solar code that municipalities could adopt.

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