McKeon & Jasey Rebuff Christie’s Claims in Veto of Bill to Help Towns Promote Solar Energy Use

Legislation Would Have Allowed Solar Panels to be Installed on Preserved Open Space under Limited Circumstances

Assembly Democrats John McKeon and Mila Jasey, prime sponsors of legislation that would have made it easier for some municipalities to harness and use solar energy, called Gov. Christie’s veto of the legislation today misguided and rebuffed his claims that the bill would have allowed “extensive development” on preserved lands.

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

McKeon and Jasey had pushed for the bill in light of towns like Madison in their district, which has its own electric department and was able to restore power to the Morris County borough mere days after Hurricane Sandy. 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, the sponsors noted.

“This bill was carefully crafted to help 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. The governor, in his veto statement, claims that he will not allow ‘extensive’ or ‘expansive development’ on lands that have been preserved with taxpayer dollars. That is a sorely misguided statement.

“Although a rubble-strewn lot in the borough has no viable recreational value, its outdated categorization as protected land prohibits it from being used to harness solar energy. This bill would have changed all that by allowing towns to take land with relatively little value and put it to good use in an environmentally-friendly manner that would have saved taxpayers money. We are not talking about building McMansions on a public park. We’re talking about building solar panels on rubble-strewn lots to curb our reliance on carbon-emitting fossil fuels,” said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris).

McKeon and Jasey have been key proponents of the recent open space legislation the governor refers to in his veto statement and noted that safeguards in the bill are intended to prevent interference with the vast majority of preserved areas, which they emphasized reflect the state’s natural character and encourage healthy, active lifestyles among New Jersey residents.

“There is a stark difference between a park and a vacant lot. This legislation would have only allowed a handful of municipalities that have preserved land unfit for recreational purposes to make use of it in a practical way. The bill would not have allowed ‘expansive development’ as the governor claims, but rather environmentally-friendly alternative energy installments that would have benefitted everyone in the long-term.

“This veto is especially disappointing since the legislation fits into the goals outlined in the Christie administration’s Energy Master Plan by promoting energy diversity. The governor is denying towns an excellent opportunity to strengthen the state’s solar industry – a goal that he purported to share with the legislature,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris).

Under the bill, the installation of solar panels would have been permitted on preserved open space provided only that:

· 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).