Keep “Energy Sprawl” Off Preserved Farms!

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

One month ago, New Jersey celebrated the preservation of its 2,000th farm. It was a true milestone, because these preserved farms – totaling about 190,000 acres – literally keep New Jersey the Garden State.

Preserved farms produce food, preserve our agricultural heritage, and bolster our economy – in perpetuity! Local foods taste better, cost less and help fight climate change by leaving a smaller “carbon footprint” than produce shipped from distant places.

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But New Jersey’s billion dollar investment in preserving farmland would be seriously jeopardized if a bill making its way through the state Assembly becomes law. The bill, A3992, would allow utility-scale wind energy installations on preserved farmland.

Although most would agree that solar, wind and other renewable energy should replace fossil fuels as fast as possible, building power generating facilities on preserved farmland is not the solution.

Our state’s Agriculture Secretary, Douglas Fisher, put it best when he warned the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee that the bill would seriously undermine the Farmland Preservation Program’s efforts if it were to become law.

Right now, preserved farms can generate wind energy to power their agricultural operations and reduce their farms’ energy costs, as long as agriculture remains the primary use. The new bill would encourage wind energy to become the primary use of farms.

“What is perhaps most troubling about the proposed bill is that, by exempting wind energy facilities from the requirements of net metering, it would allow projects larger than 2 megawatts on preserved farms,” said Fisher. “This would open preserved farms to large, utility-scale wind energy generation unrelated to farm need – effectively promoting energy sprawl on preserved farmland.

“The bill would eliminate in most cases any review by the State Agriculture Development Committee – the agency that administers the Farmland Preservation Program and is charged with ensuring that preserved farmland is maintained in a way that protects the use of the land for agriculture,” said Fisher.

“The (Agriculture) Department wholeheartedly supports the use of clean, alternative sources of energy for New Jersey,” he added. “However, as written, this bill would jeopardize the equally important public purpose of retaining our preserved farms for agricultural use and to ensure that agriculture continues to provide a whole host of benefits to the Garden State.”

Instead of messing with farms, let’s put solar and wind energy facilities where they belong. Warehouses, shopping malls and office buildings cover vast swaths of New Jersey. Why not put them to work by installing solar panels on rooftops? And shouldn’t we look into finding new uses for abandoned industrial and commercial brownfield sites?

This legislation tries to satisfy one pressing public need – clean energy – by compromising another – preserved farmland. Perhaps it’s easier to place power generation facilities on open land than retrofit other sites, but the tendency to look to greenfields for new development is precisely the kind of practice that has brought so much sprawl to New Jersey.

Agricultural land that is supplying food and pastoral beauty, fighting global warming, and providing an alternative to sprawl shouldn’t be diverted for power generation.

Please contact your legislators and urge them not to support A3992 or its state Senate companion bill, S2887. To find your legislators, contact them by email, or get their mailing addresses and phone numbers, go to www.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp .

And I hope you’ll contact me at info@njconservation.org, or visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org for more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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