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Bethlehem Twp. proposes controls over solar energy installations  

Credit:  By Terry Wright/Hunterdon County Democrat, www.nj.com 29 March 2012 ~~

BETHLEHEM TWP. – Rules and regulations about installing solar energy equipment to produce electricity are included in a new ordinance introduced by the Bethlehem Township Committee.

The public hearing will be at the committee’s meeting on Thursday, April 5, 7:30 p.m. in the Municipal Building, 405 Mine Road.

The measure spells out the zones where various sizes of solar installations would be allowed, including grid-scale and farm-scale. The difference is, a grid-scale facility is rated to produce greater than 2 megawatts of electricity and constitutes a principal use on the property whereas a farm-scale unit is rated to produce up to 2 megawatts, constitutes an accessory use on Farmland-assessed property and does not exceed a ratio of 1 acre of solar energy facility to 5 acres of agricultural production. Also, it can occupy no more than 10 acres.

To encourage saving good farmland for agricultural purposes, the ordinance prohibits grid-scale systems on properties with greater than 85% prime agricultural soils, with the exception of properties in the ROM and MFG zoning districts.

The ordinance justifies this, saying “multi-megawatt generating solar facilities are extremely consumptive of land and as such are competitors with agriculture for the use of prime agricultural soils.”

And it requires screening around grid-scale facilities “with evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs and or earthen berms and fencing which will provide a visual barrier.”

In case the facility is ever abandoned, the township has the right to order that the owner remove all the equipment, and if that doesn’t happen the township can have it removed at the owner’s expense.

According to Mayor John Graefe, the ordinance follows a measure governing wind energy facilities here, which the committee adopted nearly two years ago.

The intent is “so we have some control over what sizes and types of solar farm or solar energy initiatives can be taken in different zones,” he said.

The state allows the solar installations, considering them “an inherently beneficial use,” he noted. So Bethlehem, realizing it can’t prevent them, is adopting the ordinance to let it moderate “what types of projects go in what zones,” he said.

“Some make sense in certain types of residential or commercial zones, farm zones, and some may not fit into every zone category,” he noted.

The township’s professional planner, Lisa Specca of Clarke, Caton and Hintz, assisted with drawing up the ordinance, as did Township Attorney Robert Kenny. This was to make sure it complies with state laws as well as the township land use manual and ordinances, the mayor said.

Source:  By Terry Wright/Hunterdon County Democrat, www.nj.com 29 March 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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