Solar farms are becoming all the rage.  The Times (of Trenton) reported on September 15, 2010, that this year three solar farms have received land use approvals in Mercer County, New Jersey.  Two of these are PSE&G facilities and the other – the most recent one – is a project backed by a company called CJS Investments.  The CJS Investments prjoect is proposed to be constructed on a portion of a 63.5-acre tract situated along Yardville-Allentown Road and Tattletown Road in Hamilton Township and will consist of 31,600 solar panels capable of producing 8 megawatts of power.

Mercer County and other areas of New Jersey are likely to see more solar farms “crop up” in light of the State Legislature’s passage of favorable legislation over the last few years.  For example, in 2009, a law was enacted amending Section 3.1 of the Municipal Land Use Law (L.1975, c.291, C.40:55D-4) to define wind, solar or photovoltaic energy facilities and structures as “inherently beneficial,” making it easier to obtain approvals for and install solar equipment and other alternative energy facilities where they are not permitted under local zoning regulations and require a use variance.  Also in 2009, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed another amendment to the MLUL (P.L. 2009, c. 35), which allows a “renewable energy facility,” such as a solar farm, to be located on a parcel or parcels of land owned by the same person comprising at least 20 contiguous acres within every municipal industrial zoning district.

This year, on January 16, 2010, the Governor signed into law a bill (P.L. 2009, c. 213), which authorizes a person who owns preserved farmland to install and operate biomass, solar or wind energy generation facilities, structures and equipment on the farm for the purpose of generating power or heat.  Among other things, this bill also adds to the list of permitted activities that may be conducted on commercial farms "the generation of power or heat from biomass, solar, or wind energy."

Additionally, newly proposed legislation (Senate bill S2126) permits the construction and operation of a solar or photovoltaic energy facility or structure on a closed landfill or quarry or a legally existing or closed resource extraction operation.  In light of what is currently going on in New Jersey in the way of landfill redevelopment, this bill is timely.  According to an article published online by NJBiz on September 27, 2010, thus far, two “solar-on-landfill projects” have been built in New Jersey and “15 others are proposed or in development.”  An example of a solar-on-landfill installation currently in the pipeline (but which apparently still requires certain State and local approvals) is being proposed by the Walters Group at a former landfill site in Stafford Township, Ocean County, New Jersey.  This solar project, which forms part of a much larger redevelopment of the landfill site, is proposed to be constructed on 55 acres and will contain 1,026 solar arrays possibly making it “one of the largest and most ambitious solar projects in New Jersey.”

Although the State Senate overwhelmingly passed S2126 by a vote of 35 to 0, its future is uncertain.  Certainly, if Senate bill S2126 is ultimately adopted by the Assembly and signed into law, it will further encourage and facilitate the growth of solar farms and may even be of assistance to the many solar-on-landfill projects currently being proposed in New Jersey.