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Don’t cover NJ farmland and cleared forests with state-mandated solar

Don’t cover NJ farmland and cleared forests with state-mandated solar

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New Jersey government — its Legislature and the Murphy administration — just can’t seem to throw enough money at its pals in the solar industry.

They’ve already given $3 billion to firms that install solar panels, money taken from the pockets of residents and businesses through extra charges on their utility bills. And they’re planning new subsidies to the solar industry that will cost utility customers an estimated $800 million annually starting this year and $1.4 billion a year by 2030.

This despite the fact that average daily solar radiation is stronger in half the states in the nation than in New Jersey, making it a poor location to emphasize this particular form of renewable energy. (As opposed to the offshore wind energy resource, which is vast and only available to coastal states.)

New Jersey politicians’ love of spending public money on solar has always seemed like cronyism under the guise of dubious environmentalism.

A new effort to cover farmland and cleared forest land with solar panels drops even the environmental fig leaf.

A bill in the Senate would end a policy dating to the Christie administration that keeps industrial solar projects off farmland. It would also require Atlantic City Electric and other utilities to buy power from such projects for 20 years at a lucrative price to solar-installation companies.

Stephanie Brand, director of the Office of Rate Counsel that sticks up for customers, has objected that homeowners and businesses might be stuck with high prices for decades despite the falling cost of solar panels.

Companies can make more money by plopping solar panels on farmland and cleared forest because they don’t have to pay for the degradation of the state and its quality of life.

As the New Jersey Conservation Foundation pointed out in its opposition to the proposed law, there is no shortage of appropriate locations where solar would be purely an enhancement — parking lots; residential, commercial and industrial rooftops; and marginal open spaces. “We have more than enough capacity without solar on open lands, and we certainly don’t have to cover our most productive soils or clear our forests to meet our solar goals,” Tom Gilbert, foundation campaign director, told NJ Spotlight last year.

One of the companies pushing the state to mandate industrial solar atop farmland and other open space is Dakota Power. Last month, Millville approved a Dakota Power solar project on top of 375 acres of farmland. City officials crowed about the $260,000 annually in local taxes that the project will pay them.

So much for this overly urbanized state’s longtime effort to slow the loss of farmland through its New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program.

More massive state subsidies to solar companies aren’t needed to reach even Murphy administration clean energy goals driven by politics instead of science.

New Jersey’s already overburdened landscape shouldn’t be sacrificed to politicians’ desire to spend the people’s money to win friends and favor from industries of their choosing.

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