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N.J. Senate and Assembly pass bill remove nearly all local review of wind turbine projects in Cumberland, Salem counties

Both the New Jersey Senate and Assembly have passed a bill that, if signed by the governor, would pave the way for the construction of wind towers in Cumberland and Salem counties without local regulatory review other than minor site plan approval.

The bill – approved by the assembly on Dec. 5, with the Senate passing the Assembly’s version of the legislation on Dec. 15 – only applies to Cumberland and Salem counties, and allow for one wind turbine per 75 acres of land.

According to supporters, the legislation is meant to “streamline” wind energy projects by creating a new category of farmland-based wind energy projects.

“The provisions establishing the streamlined review, however, would not apply to a farm located in the coastal area, the pinelands area, or the highlands region,” reads a statement from the Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee to the General Assembly, dated Nov. 21.

“Moreover, the provisions of the bill would apply only to farms located in a county of the third class that is not contiguous to a county with a population density in excess of 1,000 persons per square mile according to the latest federal decennial census.

“This limitation effectively limits the application of bill to two counties, Cumberland and Salem, because they are sparsely populated and are not contiguous to any counties with a high population density.”

The legislation’s primary sponsor was Assembly Deputy Speaker Upendra Chivukula, who represents parts of Middlesex and Somerset counties. None of the co-sponsors represent areas in the affected counties.

According to the bill, any person who owns a 75-acre farm in Cumberland or Salem counties – whether it is part of the Farmland Preservation program or not – would be allowed to construct and operate a wind turbine on that property without limitation or review from county or municipal governments, outside of site plan approval, which would have to be granted by the local planning board.

The version of the bill approved by both houses includes nine requirements that projects must fulfill in order bypass local review:

* No more than one turbine installed on a 75-contiguous-acre area of land.

* No wind turbine, turbine facility, or structure can be placed within 750 feet of an occupied residential building or the property boundary line of an adjoining property.

* The wind generation facilities, structures, or equipment are installed to provide energy or revenue by lease or contract directly to the landowner, and are installed according to contracts or other agreements that permit or require continued use of the property for agricultural or horticultural use.

* Noise from the wind energy generation facilities, structures, and equipment cannot exceed 65 decibels between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and 42 decibels between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., at the property boundary line.

* Projects must satisfy electrical and structural design criteria of the State Uniform Construction Code;

* Projects must satisfy electrical standards established by the Board of Public Utilities.

* The height of the wind energy generation facilities, structures, and equipment cannot exceed 500 feet.

* The wind energy generation facilities, structures, and equipment cannot be operated during times that would result in “flicker” at any occupied residential dwelling.

* Wind energy projects must secure all required permits under the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act and the Flood Hazard Area Control Act.

According to the bill, any site plan approval must limit its review to these nine requirements.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 45-25, with five abstaining.

First District assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, along with Third District Assemblyman John Buzichelli all supported the legislation. Third District Assemblywoman Celeste Riley abstained.

It passed the Senate by a vote of 23-15.

Both First District Sen. Jeff Van Drew and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who represents the Third District, voted “yes.”

“I think it will have minimal affect on the area here – it allows only one turbine per 75 acres of land,” said Van Drew on Wednesday. “With that kind of space, there shouldn’t be an issue.”

Still, he stated he understood why people would be concerned about giving up nearly all local control of such projects.

“I understand that – if it was a matter of putting in 50 towers on that kind of land, it would be a whole different story. It’s not going to be the same as a solar or wind farm,” he said.

“There’s still site plan approval that’s required; the way it is now, there are all kinds of hurdles ad multiple steps in the process. I think that if a farmer wants to have a wind turbine on his property to generate energy, he should have that right, with site plan review.”