The Legislature has approved legislation that could lead to wind turbine development on both preserved and nonpreserved farmland in Cumberland and Salem counties.
Opponents, including state Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher, a Cumberland County resident, argued that the proposal could gut the intent of a state program that has paid out more than $1 billion over the years for farmland preservation. They contend that farmland could become commercial energy-production centers.
However, supporters say they need the money for hosting the wind turbines on their property to keep their farms operating. They also contend that hosting the wind turbines would not interfere with farming operations.
The bills essentially target farms located only in Cumberland and Salem counties, because those are the only two counties in the state that meet the low population-density threshold as outlined in the bills. The laws do not apply to farms in large sections of New Jersey, such as coastal areas or regions governed by Pinelands and Highlands legislation.
Farms would have to be 75 acres to be eligible for turbines, which would be limited to 500 feet in height.
The Assembly approved its bill Dec. 5. An identical measure was passed Dec. 15 in the state Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.
Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said the bills are “receiving careful review” by the governor’s legal staff. Christie has until Jan. 9, the close of the current legislative session, to take action on any legislation that remains pending on his desk, he said.
The Governor’s Office did receive opposition to the bills Thursday.
Shirley Kline, who directs the Cumberland County Board of Agriculture, said she called the Governor’s Office in an attempt to stop Christie from signing the bill.
Kline said she told Christie’s staff that the governor’s signature would allow for what she called improper double dipping: People who were paid taxpayer money to preserve their farmland would get additional payment from hosting the wind turbines on their property. That’s contrary to the purpose of the state’s farmland preservation program, she said.
Even without the proposed laws, Cumberland and Salem counties were considered by renewable-energy companies as prime spots for wind turbine construction. Those counties have lots of open farmland and the Delaware Bay winds needed to keep the turbines spinning.
One proposal by Toms River-based Delsea Energy could result in what the company called the biggest wind turbine system in New Jersey. The project involves construction of about 24 turbines on more than 1,200 acres of preserved farmland in Upper Deerfield Township in Cumberland County and Upper Pittsgrove and Alloway townships in Salem County.
Officials with Delsea Energy said the $54 million project would generate 38.4 megawatts of energy. That’s enough power to satisfy the needs of 28 percent of the households in Cumberland and Salem counties, they said.
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