McKeon Bill to Promote Solar Energy Use Among Local Governments Clears Assembly Panel

Legislation Assemblyman John McKeon sponsored to make it easier for some municipalities to harness and use solar energy was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The bill (A-2514) would allow local governments that operate their own municipal electric utilities to install solar panels on preserved open space under limited circumstances.

McKeon cited the Madison Electric Department, which restored power to the Morris County borough mere days after Hurricane Sandy, as an example of an entity that can benefit from the legislation. Although a rubble-strewn lot in the borough has no viable recreational value, its outdated categorization as protected land prohibits it from being used to harness solar energy, McKeon said.

“Madison led the way in helping its residents get back to normal after the storm – fully restoring services significantly faster than major investor-owned entities – precisely because the borough has a town-owned utility,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). “This bill is about helping Madison and other similarly situated municipalities make better use of their resources so they can provide even better service and pass the long-term savings along to ratepayers.”

McKeon, a key proponent of recent open space legislation who helped secure more than $1 million in Green Acres funding for Madison, noted that safeguards in the bill are intended to prevent interference with the vast majority of preserved areas, which he emphasized reflect the state’s natural character and encourage healthy, active lifestyles among New Jersey residents.

“There’s an observable difference between a park and a vacant lot. This legislation would only allow a handful of municipalities that have preserved land unfit for recreational purposes to make use of it in a practical way,” said McKeon. “If local governments – whose personnel know their terrain best – conclude that dedicating a parking lot or a contaminated site to providing clean, locally-produced power is a good option for their residents, they ought to be able to pursue it without obstruction.”

Under the bill, the installation of solar panels would be permitted on preserved open space provided:

· The existing condition of the land limits active recreation;
· The installation of solar panels would not limit available opportunities for recreation by interfering with resources such as athletic courts, playing fields or walking and hiking trails;
· No Green Acres bond funds would be used to buy or install solar panels;
· No other available lands would be suitable for the installation of solar panels;
· Energy generated would be used to meet the municipality’s needs only, and annual generation capacity would not exceed the previous year’s demand plus 10 percent;
· The municipality agrees to remove and dispose of the panels if no electricity is generated for a continuous period of at least four months; and
· The land is in a disturbed state (e.g. a building rooftop, parking lot, contaminated site or rubble-strewn lot)

At least 60 days before installing the panels, a municipality would be required to notify the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection of its intent and demonstrate compliance with the aforementioned requirements. The municipality would also be required to hold a public meeting on the matter.

The bill was released by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, of which McKeon is vice-chair.