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Christie adopts bad Corzine rules for solar and wind

titteljeff021110_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

New coastal rules make it easier to build a solar factory than to put in a solar installation

New rules for wind and solar installations along our coasts have been approved by the Christie Administration. These rules will severely limit New Jersey's ability to build renewable energy projects along our coasts.

The new rules for renewable energy make it easier for a casino to be built on a pier than a windmill. They make it easier to build an industrial park than a solar farm. A coal cogeneration facility would be easier to build than a wind farm like the Atlantic County Utilities Authority.

These rules don't protect endangered species and the environment; they do just the opposite. The biggest threat to endangered species is climate change and sea level rise. These rules will block important clean energy sources that will help fight climate change and protect New Jersey's environment.

We are dismayed that the Christie Administration is going forward with rules proposed by the Corzine administration and opposed by many environmental groups, like the Sierra Club. These rules set back the governor's own agenda on renewable energy. In comments to the DEP, the Sierra Club outlined why the new rules fall short of enabling the state to meet its renewable energy goals. The DEP responded that the club is factually accurate in our criticisms but did not amend the rules.

Siting wind and solar should be done in sound manor that does not impact species. However, we believe these rules are not designed to protect species but rather to stop renewable energy while at the same time promoting coal and power lines, which pose a bigger threat to birds.

Changes to these rules were intended to meet our renewable energy goals for the future but the new rules don't accomplish that. Instead, they present a major impediment for the future of renewable energy in New Jersey.

DEP's proposed rules will:

Limit solar and wind installations to within 120 feet from an existing structure on already disturbed land. Solar panels are not impervious and should be allowed on fields and farms and, in many cases, further away from existing buildings. This rule is arbitrary and does nothing but stop people from putting in solar arrays. Taking into consideration the setbacks that towns require, the ability to put solar on land may be severely limited. It seems that the DEP would rather see a subdivision with solar on roofs than a solar farm. This rule also dramatically limits how much solar you can put on a piece of property.

Eliminate wind as a use on more than 400 square miles of New Jersey coastal areas. The criteria relating to appropriate scientific backup is so arbitrary that it does nothing other than stop the use of wind as a source of generating electricity.

Limit the size of a windmill pole to 100 feet with the tip of the blade not being more than 200 feet. This would severely hinder the ability to install any type of windmill that will generate a decent and worthwhile amount of electricity. This is arbitrary and limits the amount of electricity that could be generated.

Allow high-density development where windmills and solar are not permitted. Under the Coastal Rules, building at 80 percent impervious coverage, or 24 units per acre of housing, is permitted in a regional center. This is the density of Hudson County. But, in the same place, you couldn't put up a windmill or solar panel on vacant land if it's not already disturbed. In Tuckerton, you can build at 70 percent impervious coverage --- a density of 20 units per acre --- but you can't put up a windmill or solar panels. Even in coastal, rural areas like Manchester and Little Egg Harbor Townships, you can build at 30 percent impervious coverage, or six to eight houses per acre, in forested and environmentally-sensitive areas. If you want to put up renewable energy in these areas, you're better off developing first.

Make it easier to built casinos, malls, shopping centers --- even roller coasters --- than windmills. Under these new rules, it is still easier to put up a casino than a windmill. A 10 story, 3 million square foot casino would be permitted on a pier in Atlantic City where only one windmill would be allowed. Multiple roller coasters and Ferris wheels would be allowed but still only one windmill.

Limit the swept area of the windmill to 2,000 square feet. This restriction limits installations to very small 20 KV windmills, which could provide electricity for a single family home and would not be worth the installation, especially considering the cost of environmental studies. Plus, the number of windmills permitted in one location would be limited to three. Under this proposal, the Atlantic County Utilities Authority wind farm would not exist.

Encourage co-generation plants without designating a fuel. Instead of natural gas, coal could be used, something to which we strongly object. Further, while we're limiting the height of windmills, we're not limiting the height of smoke stacks or co-generation plants.

Limit offshore wind projects to one small 25 MW pilot project. To single out and give a break to just one company is not only arbitrary and capricious, but also smacks of politics. Pilot projects should be allowed for multiple companies or no companies at all.

Don't allow for changes in technology. Windmills are limited to 5 MW, however, advances in technology may lead to smaller windmills that produce more electricity.

At a time when the biggest threat to our coast is climate change and sea level rise, we must generate renewable energy to protect our coasts. Instead, these rules block renewable energy and will cost us thousands in clean energy jobs that we need to grow our economy.

Sea level rise and climate change not only threaten our environment but also tourism because storms and high water levels could destroy the $39 billion industry. Clean energy along our coasts will protect us from blackouts but will protect the environment and prevent sea level rise.

People pay more for rooms at the Borgata with a view of the windmills because they like to look at them and Atlantic City wants to build a wind farm as tourism attraction. By blocking windmills along our coast, we are also blocking tourism. Studies show that windmills in Atlantic City have a very minor impact on birds but the Borgata, a glass sided building, kills many.

The studies used to form these rules did not address the environmental impact to coastal New Jersey from rising sea levels or climate change. The studies only look at the direct effects to species from the windmills, but windmills today can be designed with shutoffs to detect and protect migratory birds. Windmills today are large and move slowly, minimizing conflict with birds.

We support tough standards for renewable energy to make sure any potential environmental impact is limited, however, these rules make it easier to build power lines than solar arrays. Instead of a step forward, these rules are really a step backwards and undermine New Jersey's efforts to deal with climate change and implement the Energy Master Plan.

Although we're glad to see the DEP implementing protections for threatened and endangered species and their habitats, it is hypocritical to not enforce the same rules for residential, industrial and commercial development. For example, these rules restrict solar farms in places where racetracks are allowed. The DEP allowed the Millville Racetrack, with all of its pollution, to be put in the middle of an important bird migration area but under these rules a renewable energy would be restricted.

Windmills are not permitted along Delaware Bayshore but the DEP refused to block a proposal for a massive power line with hundreds of monopoles cutting across that same area. The DEP has not dealt with cooling towers at nuclear power plants, which kill more species than windmills less than 50 feet from wetlands. The DEP would permit the reopening of BL England coal plant, which will contaminate our waterways with mercury, but wouldn't allow a windmill next to that power plant.

It is important to have setbacks for wind and solar from streams and wetlands but then the same setbacks should be enforced for all development. We support protecting natural resources from the potential impacts of renewable energy, but for some reason DEP doesn't apply the same rules for power lines, highway widenings, glass buildings, or cell towers. These rules are a double standard and the DEP should be ashamed. New Jersey has committed to putting in 1,000 MW of solar and 400 MW of on shore wind. These rules will make it almost impossible for the state to meet those requirements.

Jeff Tittel is the Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club

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