Whelan Bill To Allow Closed Landfills To Be Converted To Renewable Energy Farms Receives Senate Approval

Bill Would Expand NJ’s Renewable Energy Industry, Put Closed Landfills to Good Use

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Jim Whelan which would permit the development of solar, photovoltaic and wind energy facilities on closed landfills or quarries was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 33-0, conforming to the Governor’s conditional veto on the bill.

“With gas prices on track to reach $4 a gallon and other energy resources raising their rates, it’s long past time that we explore clean, renewable energy sources as a viable alternative,” said Senator Whelan, D-Atlantic. “We cannot continue on our current track of spending billions of dollars for depleted and depleting resources when we have other options on the table. By investing in the success of renewable energy farms in Southern New Jersey, we can create jobs, harness cleaner energy and lower people’s utility bills and property taxes.”

The bill, S-2126, as amended would provide that, notwithstanding any existing law, local ordinance or regulation, that the development of solar and photovoltaic energy facilities or structures on any closed landfill or quarry, or an existing or closed resource extraction operation, be a permitted land use in every municipality in the State, including areas preserved under the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan. Under the bill, the Pinelands Commission would be required to review any application for the development of a renewable energy facility on the site of a closed landfill or quarry, and determine that the development is in conformance with the applicable standards of the management plan. The bill would also include wind energy facilities as a permitted use in areas not already under the protection of the Pinelands management plan.

The development of a renewable energy facility would be prohibited from adversely impacting any existing engineering devices or environmental controls located on the site to facilitate site remediation, or any ecologically-sensitive areas located on or within the same sub-watershed as the site proposed for development, except as may be approved by the Pinelands Commission, in consultation with the State Department of Environmental Protection.

“The communities which stand to gain under this bill are struggling to get by, unable to attract new development and new tax ratables as a result of the Pinelands preservation law,” said Senator Whelan, who as mayor of Atlantic City, attracted the Borgata resort – a billion dollar investment – to develop on top of a closed landfill. “While I agree with the premise of the Pinelands law – that we have a responsibility to conserve our natural resources – I think we can accomplish economic development and environmental conservatism by investing in our State’s green economy. This bill would give municipalities the tools to attract new investment and new jobs, and remains consistent with our environmental interests in the Pinelands region.”

Senator Whelan noted that there are nearly 80 unused landfills within the Pinelands preservation area, and of those 80, there are only two which have been capped. The other 78 landfills are sitting as unusable, undevelopable land.

“Given the painfully slow rate of remediation of closed landfills, it could take up to 300 years before every landfill in the Pinelands region is restored to usable land,” said Senator Whelan. “Local residents and municipal officials cannot wait that long for new economic investment in their communities and new jobs in their region. This bill would promote a cutting-edge field of research and technology, would boost an environmentally-friendly business model which has the potential to create jobs and preserve natural resources, and would establish South Jersey as a national leader in the emerging green economy.”

The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration, before going to the Governor again to be signed into law.

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