Farmland wind energy bill held in committee

TRENTON – A bill to permit wind energy projects on farms was held today in the Senate Energy Committee.

S2887, sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith, (D-17), Piscataway, said the original proposal has been reworked drastically.

Among the changes, the scope has been greatly reduced to include only two counties: Salem and Cumberland.  Pinelands and Highlands regions have been removed from the bill as permissible development areas.

In addition, a 75-foot buffer has been installed in the proposal. There can be only one turbine per 75 acres of farmland.

Smith said that wind energy on farms could produce 100 megawatts of new electrical energy.

Supporter and former Department of Environmental Protection Commission Bradley Campbell testified farm-based wind energy could be half the cost of solar, and less than half the cost of offshore wind.

Sen. Jennifer Beck said a provision of a 750-foot setback from residential dwellings should be revisited as being possibly insufficient.

She said that the noise downwind of some of these 270-foot wingspan blades is comparable to that of a jet engine.

But Sen. Jim Whelan said that the issues of noise or shadow “flicker’’ should not be a major concern when essentially they are talking about constructing wind turbines in the middle of a 75-acre field.

Whelan had a different issue to raise: jobs.

Much of the solar industry manufacturing occurred overseas, he said, and he would hate to see the pattern repeated with wind turbines.

“We have a lot of boat builders out of work,’’ Whelan said. “There are plants (in southern New Jersey) that are literally padlocked.’’

These people work in fiberglass, a key component of the wind turbine industry, and he wants to see the raw materials of wind energy manufactured here.

Local involvement

East Windsor Mayor Janice Mironov raised a concern on behalf of municipalities that the bill not reduce or override local zoning and planning authority.

“We don’t want to diminish the public’s right to know or participate in the process,’’ Mironov said, a concern that  Beck seconded.

Smith said originally the bill had no provision for municipal approval, but the reworked proposal includes provisions for local involvement. But the newer proposal treats wind turbines as a “permitted’’ use, not as a “use variance.’’

The difference is significant, because in essence the latter hurdle can be considered a greater one for an application to have to clear at the municipal level.

Smith said that they felt in the past, with solar energy, that “some municipalities just don’t get it,’’ and the issue of renewables is too critical statewide for individual towns to have too much power to block it.