On its second chance, the Calverton Solar Energy Center (also known as NextEra) received preliminary site plan approval from the Riverhead Planning Board to build a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on two parcels of land — one on River Road and one on Edwards Avenue.
The Planning Board voted 4-1 with board chair Stan Carey casting the lone no vote. The board previously voted 3-2 against the proposal at its April 15 meeting, with members Joe Baier and Richard O’Dea joining Mr. Carey in voting no.
The applicant has since made a number of changes to the plans, such as moving a proposed substation back 370 feet from the road right of way.
“This has been a very flawed process right from the beginning,” Mr. Carey said Thursday. “It’s definitely, by far, the most questionable application that I have dealt with since being on this planning board. And I’m still not satisfied that all of the concerns and outstanding issues have been adequately resolved. For that reason, I vote no.”
In addition to the Planning Board’s vote on the site plan for NextEra, the Riverhead Town Board in December approved a special permit for the project. A part of that agreement was that NextEra would pay the town $1.5 million in “community benefits.”
The agreement called for NextEra to pay the town $750,000 within five business days of the issuance of the final approvals of both special permit and the final site plan, while the other $750,000 would be paid to the town within five business days from the issuance of the temporary certificate of occupancy.
The approval before the Planning Board Thursday is only a preliminary approval, and the final site plan approvals will require a number of other conditions be met. These include that the applicant demonstrate compliance with the requirements and standards of the Central Pine Barrens Commission Comprehensive Land Use Plan and obtain a letter of approval from that agency.
Riverhead Town and NextEra must enter into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement, that contains a condition that PILOT payments “shall automatically increase proportionately in the event the improvements, or any part thereof, are altered, modified, replaced, and/or reconstructed such that the capacity to generate power is increased,” and that both sides agree upon and execute a Community Benefit Agreement with the Town of Riverhead.
NextEra also needs amended state Department of Environmental Conservation approvals for both a Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act permit and a freshwater waters permit.
The majority of the public input at the Planning Board meetings on NextEra has been overwhelmingly opposed.
John Harrison of Riverhead started an online petition March 1 which now has more than 750 people in opposition.
“Many residents of Calverton spoke out against this process,” said Toqui Terchun of Calverton.
Former Councilwoman Barbara Blass pointed out a number of inconsistencies, including that the plan fails to show elevations and calls for a 25 foot landscaped buffer instead of the required 50 feet. She also questioned how planners could have reviewed new material that was received two days ago and written a draft approval resolution in that time.
NextEra is one of two large solar farms currently proposed in Calverton, while three more have already been approved.