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Smith Bill to Permit Solar Energy Projects on Unpreserved Farmland Advances

Trenton – In an effort to increase the amount of solar energy generated in the State, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee today passed legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Smith which would establish the “Dual-Use Solar Energy Pilot Program.” Dual-use solar refers to agricultural production and electricity production from solar panels occurring together on the same piece of land.

The bill, S-3484, would permit an owner of unpreserved farmland that is valued, assessed, and taxed pursuant to the “Farmland Assessment Act of 1964” to apply to the pilot program. Under the program, owners would be able to construct, install, and operate a dual-use solar energy project that produces a maximum of 10 megawatts of electricity on their land while continuing to receive farmland assessment.

“In the next decade, our goal is to have 17 gigawatts of solar energy being produced and utilized annually, and this pilot program alone will provide the state with at least 200 megawatts of electricity, setting us on the right track to reach this ambitious goal,” said Senator Smith (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “Dual-use solar energy projects would allow us to simultaneously utilize the area above farmland used for produce such as cranberries, blueberries, squash, and turf grass to generate energy, giving us the land that is needed to establish large-scale solar projects. Farmers will also benefit greatly from this bill, as the lease payments for the land used for solar development can provide a steady source of revenue.”

Under the bill, a dual-use solar energy project would be defined as energy generation facilities, structures, and equipment for the production of electric power from solar photovoltaic panels located on unpreserved farmland in agricultural or horticultural production that ensures the continued simultaneous use of the land below and adjacent to the panels for agricultural or horticultural production. Energy generated from dual-use projects would not be considered an agricultural or horticultural product, with any income from the power sold from the project not being considered eligible for farmland assessment.

In order to be eligible for the pilot program, landowners proposing a dual-use solar energy project must submit an application to the Board of Public Utilities (BPU), who would then consult with the Department of Agriculture. The pilot program would last a duration of three years, after which the BPU would be authorized to extend the program for a maximum of two additional 12-month periods and increase the power by 50 megawatts for each extension. Upon expiration of the pilot program, the BPU would be required to adopt rules converting the pilot program into a permanent program as part of the BPU’s successor solar incentive program.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 4-0.