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Smith Renewable Energy Package Approved In Committee

TRENTON – A package of bills sponsored by Senator Bob Smith which would promote renewable energy throughout the State of New Jersey was unanimously approved by the Senate Economic Growth Committee today.

“As fuel prices soar, and it’s becoming more and more expensive to keep our homes cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, we need to look to alternative energy to offset our needs,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset, the Chair of the Senate Environment Committee. “Everyone in the State should be able to take advantage of renewable energy systems, not just the wealthy elite who can afford home installation. We need to clear obstacles to renewable energy generation facilities, and ensure that we make a Statewide push for cleaner, cheaper energy which moves us away from our dependency on foreign oil and older, environmentally-damaging technology.”

The first bill in the package, S-1299, would permit the location of certain wind and solar energy generating facilities in areas zoned for industrial use. The bill stipulates that any lot which is at least 20 contiguous acres and zoned for industrial use would fall under the provisions of this bill. Senator Smith noted that the intent of the legislation is to supersede local zoning ordinances, which can sometimes be guided by a NIMBY (Not-In-My-Back-Yard) mentality, prohibiting development without regard to the public benefits of the project.

“Allowing renewable energy facilities to be located on industrial property is an important step in promoting green technology and pushing redevelopment in our older urban communities,” said Senator Smith. “If renewable energy is going to be a serious, viable alternative energy source, then it can’t be the sole dominion of wealthy property owners looking for a break on their energy bills. We can bring renewable energy facilities to cities in desperate need of redevelopment, and create jobs while providing city-wide benefits for hard-hit property owners and tenants struggling with their home heating and electric bills.”

The second bill in the package, S-1303, would codify the definition of “inherently beneficial use,” for the purposes of zoning use variances under New Jersey’s “Municipal Land Use Law.” Under the bill, “inherently beneficial use,” would be defined as a developed property which is universally considered of value to the community because it serves a fundamental need, such as hospitals, schools, child care centers, group homes, or in the case of renewable energy, wind, solar or photovoltaic energy facilities. Through the “inherently beneficial use” label, many of these sites would be considered eligible for a variance that would ensure they could not be blocked by existing local zoning ordinances.

“Historically, ‘inherently beneficial’ projects have been able to get around zoning restrictions, because it’s recognized that the public good is better served by moving ahead with the project,” said Senator Smith. “Variance carve-outs have been granted for utility infrastructure, schools, hospitals and facilities which have a universally-understood benefit to the community. It’s appropriate that we update the definition of ‘inherently beneficial’ to include renewable systems which will help bring energy costs down for everyone.”

The final bill in the package, S-1538, would allow solar and wind energy generation on preserved farmland under certain circumstances. The bill would allow the owners of preserved farmland to construct, operate and install solar or wind energy facilities or equipment on their farms, so long as the equipment is owned by the landowner, and is used primarily to provide power or heat to the farm, either through direct energy generation or net metering or similar programs to offset energy use on the farm.

“Energy farming is a great way to allow our State’s farmers to achieve energy self-sufficiency while promoting positive environmental outcomes,” said Senator Smith. “The environmental goals of renewable energy and farmland preservation are not mutually exclusive. Farmers on preserved farmland deserve the right to pursue renewable energy to control farm energy costs and conserve our State’s limited energy supply.”

All three bills now head to the full Senate for consideration.

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