On April 22, 2010, Governor Christie signed into law S-921 – new legislation designed to facilitate solar panel development and, more broadly, to fortify New Jersey’s position as a green energy leader.
Under this new legislation, S-921, solar panels are now exempt from zoning limitations on impervious cover – a planning term for hard surfaces such as buildings and driveways, that prevent water from absorbing into the ground. On solar panels, municipalities have been contradictory in their impervious cover requirements, with some treating solar panels as impervious. S-921 addresses this inconsistency – solar panels cannot be restricted through impervious coverage limitations. Note that the base or foundation of a solar panel may still be regulated as impervious cover.
For purposes of S-921, “solar panel” is defined as “an elevated panel or plate, or a canopy or array thereof, that captures and converts solar radiation to produce power, and includes flat plate, focusing solar collectors, or photovoltaic solar cells and excludes the base or foundation of the panel, plate, canopy, or array.” In that regard, S-921 amends various land use laws, including the Municipal Land Use Law, the Wetlands Act of 1970, the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA), the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, the County Planning Act and the
Planned Real Estate Development Full Disclosure Act.
On a macro level, S-921 is among several recent legislative efforts to reduce land use permitting obstacles for green energy developers (e.g., P.L.2009, c.244 (municipalities cannot unreasonably restrict development of certain small wind energy systems for onsite consumption); P.L. 2009, c. 213 (biomass, solar and wind energy facilities are now permitted on certain commercial farms); P.L. 2009 c. 146 (the Municipal Land Use Law now defines “inherently beneficial use” to include, among other uses, wind, solar and photovoltaic energy facilities); P.L.2009, c.35 (renewable energy facilities are now permitted on sites that (i) are zoned industrial, and (ii) comprise 20 or more contiguous acres under common ownership)).