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It's Not Easy Being Green: Laws Impede Renewable Energy, Other Enviro Practices

Date : Fri, 26 Sep 2008 12:10:37 -0400


For Immediate Release Contacts: Jeff Tittel, NJ
Sierra Club, (609) 558-9100 September 26, 2008 Dave Pringle, NJ Enviro Federation, (732) 996-4288

Mike Pisauro, NJ Enviro Lobby, (609) 577-7584

Dena Mottola, Environment NJ, (609) 540-6609

It's Not Easy Being Green Many State and Local Laws Impede Installation of Renewable Energy and Other Environmental Practices

While everyone from Governor Corzine to your next door neighbor will proclaim that they support renewable energy and care about protecting the environment, many laws actually discourage pro-environmental practices. Local zoning ordinances, land use laws, and other state and local regulations can make it so burdensome to make the right choice for the environment that it becomes unlikely that people will pursue these beneficial strategies.

"When it comes to global warming, government has not been part of the solution, it has been part of the problem," said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

With 566 municipalities in New Jersey, regulations related to renewable energy installation and other environmental practices are all over the map. While some municipalities have passed ordinances promoting renewable energy technologies like solar and wind, others, such as Long Beach Township in Ocean County, have moved to ban them completely.

One common issue is that local zoning ordinances do not include wind turbines or other renewable energy installations, meaning that homeowners or businesses must apply for a variance in order to use these technologies. Not only does this take time and money, it also leaves the door open to the installation being attacked on grounds such as aesthetics.

In Wayne, for example, Rob Burke, co-owner of Wayne Auto Spa applied in 2007 for a variance to erect a wind turbine. He has since been embroiled in a battle with the town and its mayor, Scott Rumana, which cite aesthetic concerns, as well as safety and noise issues, as reasons they oppose the construction. Supporters of Burke's efforts, however, find this concern with aesthetics odd. "This is a carwash in the middle of a commercial strip on the Hamburg Pike," noted Tittel. "If a turbine doesn't fit in aesthetically there, where is it going to fit?" There is likewise no conclusive evidence that safety or noise are serious problems.

Another common barrier to wind turbines in particular are setback or lot size requirements. Millville, for example, requires a minimum of five acres in order to install even a single wind turbine, regardless of its height. Setbacks, meanwhile, are often related to the height of the turbine and defended as necessary to protect the neighbors in the event the turbine falls. According to Mike Pisauro, Legislative Director for the New Jersey Environmental Lobby, however, not only are most wind turbine systems built to withstand hurricane force winds, these regulations are also incongruent with requirements for similar structures. There are no setback requirements for flag poles or trees, which may conceivably be tall enough to fall over the property line onto a neighbor's house. Why, then, is this a concern for windmills?

"We must stop tripping ourselves as we chase green," commented Pisauro. "New Jersey can either be a leader in promoting renewable energy, conservation, sustainable practices, and economic growth or we can continue to hamper our efforts by taxing renewable energy systems, making it difficult to impossible to install renewable energy, and discouraging green building practices. We can either match our actions with our words or we can all lose out on a healthier economy and a healthier environment."

Solar panels, while not typically subject to setback requirements or zoning ordinances, also come under attack based on "aesthetics." Homeowners associations have often denied applications to install panels for these reasons. Last year the New Jersey legislature passed a law prohibiting homeowners associations from banning solar energy systems outright. Associations retain the right to adopt regulations regarding where solar collectors may be placed on the roof and requiring the installation of screens or other concealing structures, although these requirements may not inhibit the efficient functioning of the panels or add more than 10% to the installation or maintenance costs of the system.

More laws like this one are needed if New Jersey is encourage renewable energy development and meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals set by the 2007 Global Warming Response Act. Some of these include:

* A3062/S1303. This bill would make windmills and solar installations "inherently beneficial," meaning that the burden of proof required to get a variance would be greatly reduced. This legislation would be similar to the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which classifies cell towers as inherently beneficial and therefore limits the ability of local government to restrict their installation - for example, a town cannot prohibit the construction of cell towers within its borders.

* A1558. This bill would require developers to provide for solar energy systems on new construction when requested by the buyers. Currently many builders will not offer a solar option on new homes.

* A2859. This legislation would permit wind and solar energy systems on preserved farms.

* S710. This legislation would exempt energy savings equipment and renewable energy systems from property taxes. In the past, homeowners who installed solar panels have been penalized by having their taxes go up based on the value of the energy system, discouraging others from doing the same. This bill would fix that problem.

* A1559/S1788. This bill would require municipal master plans to include renewable energy systems, green buildings, and energy conservation, addressing the problem of many municipalities not explicitly permitting these features in any zone, meaning that a variance must be granted before installation can take place.

* Legislation to protect roof warranties when solar panels are installed. Currently many roof warranties are voided if solar energy systems are put in. Legislation could remove this policy, which discourages the use of renewable energy.

* A1763/S1253 and S702. Just as local regulations have thwarted renewable energy, state inaction has been a roadblock to efforts to implement energy efficiency measures statewide. A1763/S1253 would require appliances to meet higher efficiency standards, while S702 would enact green building standards. "Governor Corzine, break down this wall," said Dave Pringle, Campaign Director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation. "We need to continue moving forward with efficiency solutions that will reduce our energy needs, but the state is blocking that progress."

"We need to clear the way for clean energy and energy conservation, for the sake of our environment and the economic health of our state," said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Executive Director of Environment New Jersey.

"With gas prices and sea level rising, we need the legislature and the governor to rise too," concluded Pringle. "To implement last year's Global Warming Response Act, these clean renewable and energy efficiency bills need to move now."


Becca Glenn, Program Assistant New Jersey Sierra Club

145 W. Hanover Street Trenton, NJ 08618

609-656-7612: phone

609-656-7618: fax

Received on 2008-09-29 12:10:03

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at

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