City council seeks to extend solar moratorium to all renewable energy installations

Riverhead City Council members said they would take steps to expand the city’s moratorium on commercial solar applications to include all renewable energy systems, in anticipation of applications for new types of installations. , such as anaerobic digesters, which are not covered by the current zoning code.

Council members agreed to move forward with an expanded moratorium after a discussion during today’s business session about the role of anaerobic digesters in the city’s future. Anaerobic digesters are used in food waste-to-fuel facilities, such as the one offered by CEA Energy at Enterprise Park in Calverton.

The CEA’s proposal triggered the discussion this morning. The company has a pending application before the Zoning Appeal Board for an interpretation on whether current zoning at EPCAL permits the facility. The ZBA application was made by Taliesin East, which is seeking to sell a vacant 8.3-acre parcel at 200 Scott Avenue to CEA Energy for the construction of a facility that would process organic waste and generate renewable natural gas and compostable soil amendments, according to ZBA filings.

The site is located in the Planned Industrial Park Zoning Use District, adopted in 1999 for the 490-acre “industrial core” of the former Grumman manufacturing site. The city’s building department has twice ruled that the proposed use is not permitted under the zoning code – most recently in a March 4 letter from building and planning administrator Jefferson Murphree , which cited a February 2019 ruling by then-Chief Building Inspector Brad Hammond.

The use of an anaerobic digester is not specified in the code, making it difficult for the ZBA to determine if it is permitted in the district, ZBA attorney Dawn Thomas told the municipal Council. She said the city council, as the city’s legislative body, will likely be the entity responsible for making the decision.

“The zoning board has determined that it’s really a matter of city council and so I think tonight – they’ll have until tonight or soon after – they’ll have a decision that will probably send it back to you – without presupposing that decision – but I think that’s where they’re coming from,” Thomas said. “But rather to leave legislation to the legislature and judicial functions to the judiciary.”

City Attorney Erik Howard recommended that the council expand the moratorium on solar installations to include all renewable energy systems. The moratorium expires in October and provides for a one-year renewal by the council.

“I think a lot of these systems, our planning department doesn’t know much about them. We also don’t know, right now with the wait for the overall plan, where we’re going to want to place these things,” Howard said. “So I think it would be prudent to consider extending the moratorium to include these systems, until we have more information about them and feel more comfortable determining where we we can legislate the zoning of these systems.”

CEA Energy consultant Victor Prusinowski, who filed the application with the ZBA asking for the interpretation, said the firm was not invited to today’s working session, but said it heard “a lot of misinformation” circulating during the meeting.

Prusinowski said he will speak to the supervisor tomorrow and ask CEA Energy to come to a business meeting to answer questions from city council about the anaerobic digestion facility. He said he would request a postponement of the ZBA’s decision which is expected to be made tonight.

“One of the reasons we like the EPCAL site is that we want to use the rail spur. It is therefore not a chemical treatment plant. We do not manufacture fertilizer. It’s an organic system that takes organic waste and we can make gas, sell it back to the national grid, or we can generate electricity,” Prusinowski said.

City council members discussed reports of explosions at digestion facilities and supervisor Yvette Aguiar spoke about sewage waste digesters in ‘third world countries’, noting that Riverhead doesn’t need them because it has its own sewage treatment facilities. CEA Energy’s proposal does not concern wastewater discharges.

“Honestly, from everything I’ve been exposed to, and in terms of digesters, they’re too new,” adviser Tim Hubbard said. “There just isn’t enough data on them to show what the long-term effect is. They looked like they could be very dangerous, flammable at times…. And for me, it’s two years before I even think or even consider. Let’s see someone else be the guinea pig.

Hubbard said most of the information about anaerobic digesters comes from the companies that want to build them “and of course that’s all going to be positive information.”

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said he was not opposed to the idea of ​​anaerobic digesters, but agreed with the idea of ​​implementing a moratorium to address zoning in the context of the full plan update.

Councilman Ken Rothwell asked about the scale of the facility.

“I think the idea of ​​an anaerobic digester works and can be beneficial, but I would have concerns about the environmental impact,” Rothwell said. “I don’t want to be the receiving capital of New York City to come to Riverhead,” he said, citing concerns about tractor-trailer traffic. ”

CEA Energy has not yet filed a site plan application with the city for the facility, but has only pursued the ZBA’s interpretation.

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