Gov. Christie vetoes bill that would have allowed wind turbines on preserved farmland

Source: THOMAS BARLAS • Press of Atlantic City • Posted: Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday vetoed a measure that would allow wind turbine development on farmland preserved under a state program designed to protect New Jersey’s agricultural enterprises.

The bill would also have essentially targeted farmland in Cumberland and Salem counties.

Christie said in his veto message that the legislation would undermine the state Farmland Preservation Program and “emasculate ongoing efforts to authorize responsible farm-based energy development that would not disrupt agricultural purposes.”

“Although establishing responsible wind energy generation on farmland is an important goal, this bill is too broad and may have the unintended consequence of undermining (the program) by opening preserved farms to large, utility-scale development,” the veto message reads.

Christie said the legislation sets too-high noise standards. He further said it would interfere with efforts by the State Agricultural Development Committee to develop regulations regarding wind energy development on farmland.

The legislation is actually two identical bills approved by the state Senate and the Assembly. The proposal raised a series of concerns as it was being developed.

Opponents argued that the measure would gut the farmland preservation program. They also contended that farmland could become commercial energy production centers.

However, supporters say they need the money provided for hosting the wind turbines on their property to keep their farms operating. They also contend that hosting the wind turbines won’t interfere with farming operations.

The revamped bills essentially target farms located only in Cumberland and Salem counties. That’s because those are the only two counties in the state that meet the low population density threshold as outlined in the bills.

The laws also don’t apply to farms in large sections of New Jersey, such as coastal areas or regions governed by Pinelands and Highlands legislation.

Even without the proposed laws, Cumberland and Salem counties were considered by renewable energy companies as prime spots for wind turbine construction. Those counties have lots of open farmland and the Delaware Bay winds needed to keep the wind turbines spinning.

One of the more significant projects proposed while the legislation was being developed involved construction of about 24 wind turbines on more than 1,200 acres of preserved farmland in Upper Deerfield Township in Cumberland County and Upper Pittsgrove and Alloway townships in Salem County.

Developers estimated the wind turbines would generate enough power to satisfy the needs of about 28 percent of the households in Cumberland and Salem counties.