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Upper Deerfield committee members join other local officials through NJ in opposing state green energy bill; may be too late

Township Committee members here hope someone can stop a state green energy bill now awaiting Governor Jon Corzine’s signature before it becomes law. The New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJSLOM) and officials in towns throughout the state joined them in opposing the bill, whose Senate version was S1303. The bill passed the Senate in late February and the Assembly in late June.

UPPER DEERFIELD TWP. — Township Committee members here hope someone can stop a state green energy bill now awaiting Governor Jon Corzine’s signature before it becomes law.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJSLOM) and officials in towns throughout the state joined them in opposing the bill, whose Senate version was S1303.

The bill passed the Senate in late February and the Assembly in late June.

The Assembly vote was 55 in favor and 21 against, with two not voting and two abstaining. In the Senate, 36 voted yes, 1 voted no, and three did not vote.

It is one of two bills making up what is called the Smith Renewable Energy Package, which aims to promote green energy use throughout the state.

Its primary sponsor is Democratic Senator Bob Smith of the 17th legislative district, which includes Middlesex and Somerset Counties.

S1303 would make it difficult at the very least for local officials to prohibit building solar, photovoltaic or wind energy facilities in areas zoned for other purposes.

It does so by extending the scope of facilities deemed “inherently beneficial” to cover those very types of renewable energy sources. Previous court rulings had... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

UPPER DEERFIELD TWP. — Township Committee members here hope someone can stop a state green energy bill now awaiting Governor Jon Corzine’s signature before it becomes law.

The New Jersey State League of Municipalities (NJSLOM) and officials in towns throughout the state joined them in opposing the bill, whose Senate version was S1303.

The bill passed the Senate in late February and the Assembly in late June.

The Assembly vote was 55 in favor and 21 against, with two not voting and two abstaining. In the Senate, 36 voted yes, 1 voted no, and three did not vote.

It is one of two bills making up what is called the Smith Renewable Energy Package, which aims to promote green energy use throughout the state.

Its primary sponsor is Democratic Senator Bob Smith of the 17th legislative district, which includes Middlesex and Somerset Counties.

S1303 would make it difficult at the very least for local officials to prohibit building solar, photovoltaic or wind energy facilities in areas zoned for other purposes.

It does so by extending the scope of facilities deemed “inherently beneficial” to cover those very types of renewable energy sources. Previous court rulings had defined such a facility as one that, by its very nature and purpose, “fundamentally serves the public good and promotes the general welfare.”

They include - among others - schools, day care centers, hospitals and group homes. Being inherently beneficial can spur a zoning variance, an exception of sorts, that would allow such a facility to be build on land zoned for another purpose, such as industrial or residential.

Township officials here say S1303 can open a Pandora’s box by taking away local officials’ power over their own zoning.
 
They have repeatedly said they applaud green energy efforts. But they fear solar, photovoltaic and wind energy facilities will be given what Committeeman John “Terry” O’Neill calls “carte blanche” in gobbling up acres that otherwise can be used by businesses employing more workers and supplying tax ratables to the community.

“It’s unfair to the community,” O’Neill said of the legislation. “It’s taking away valuable property.”

He worries particularly about the State Highway 77 corridor running south into Bridgeton. O’Neill foresees a stretch of land there filled with solar panels.

 Such a blow to aesthetics, he said, can hurt the township’s draw to future developers.

The township committee wants to have a say in bringing in further development. O’Neill argues that solar and other forms of renewable energy don’t require lots of upkeep and therefore won’t serve as optimal sites for full-time employment locally.

“They tried to keep the legislation simple,” O’Neill said of the bill, “but it’s too simple...Other than the green energy portion, there’s very, very little benefit to the community.”
  
Committeeman and Deputy Mayor James Crilley also feels the state is imposing too much on municipalities.
 
“Let the communities participate in deciding where these things go,” he said.

Crilley added that a large influx of green facilities can also put a damper on residential zones.

“We have several housing developments yet to materialize,” he said. And as an example, “I may have invested my life savings in a new home, and I look up and see nothing but solar panels.”

NJSLOM, an organization including officials of virtually all 566 municipal governments that in part lobbies for local concerns throughout the state, has opposed the bill at least since October of last year.

NJSLOM Executive Director William G. Dressel Jr. sent a letter at the time asking mayors to write to state legislators in opposition of S1303 and the Assembly version, A3062.

“The League has opposed past efforts to introduce a definition for ‘inherently beneficial use’ because special interests have sought additional amendments to exempt their constituencies,” Dressel’s letter read.

“If indeed a project is beneficial to the community, the applicant has the option to go through the normal regulatory process.”
 
It wasn’t totally clear late last week whether local governments would have any power to deny a green energy facility zoning variance should the bill become law.

But Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D, 3rd Dist) said on Friday he was informed, as the bill moved through the legislature, that local officials would not be able to do so.

“There was not a lot of objection, as I recall,” said Burzichelli, who voted in favor of the bill.

In fact, Burzichelli said, he hadn’t heard much opposition until about a month ago, long after the bill was passed.

“I would have liked to hear about it while it was in committee,” he said, concerning the early stages before a bill comes before the full Assembly.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t be fine tuned or changed,” he assured. “Laws get changed all the time.”

“As these issues take shape and as we see there’s a problem, we will go back in and make changes. We do it all the time,” Burzichelli said.

In particular, he said legislators would likely “pass a new law allowing the statute to be changed,” should it become law.
 
It can also automatically become law if Corzine neither signs it nor turns it back over to the legislature with a veto.

A statement from the Senate Democrats released the day the bill passed the Senate said of the measure that “promoting wind, solar, photovoltaic or tidal power in New Jersey will give customers a cheap, clean alternative to meet their energy needs and will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and foreign oil.”

 It added that the bill would further help by “spawning jobs as well as cost savings for energy consumers.”

The other bill in the Smith Package, S1299, would allow wind and solar energy facilities to be build on lots of at least 20 acres that are zoned industrial.
 
The Democrats’ news release mentioned “Senator Smith noted that the intent of the legislation (S1299) 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.” 


Source: http://www.nj.com/cumberlan...

NOV 9 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23031-upper-deerfield-committee-members-join-other-local-officials-through-nj-in-opposing-state-green-energy-bill-may-be-too-late
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