By: Henry T. Chou, Esq.

As you drive by the industrial warehouse district in your town, imagine for a minute that the large, drab buildings have been replaced with solar panel fields and windmills. As improbable as that may sound, the New Jersey Legislature has envisioned such a result for the State’s suburban and urban areas.

Earlier this month, both houses of the Legislature passed a terse, three-sentence bill (A2550/S1299) that would allow owners of property zoned for industrial uses to install and operate “renewable energy facilities,” such as solar panel fields and wind farms. The land on which the facilities are built must comprise of at least 20 contiguous acres and must be owned by the same person or entity. If Governor Corzine signs the bill into law, renewable energy facilities will immediately become permitted uses in areas currently zoned for industrial use by municipalities.

The bill, as currently written, does not account for such facilities as an accessory use to a primary industrial uses, e.g., a paper mill powered by solar panels. Thus, at this point, it is unclear whether industrial business owners would be required to completely convert the use of their property from an industrial facility to a renewable energy power station in order to take advantage of the legislation.

It remains to be seen whether the conversion of industrial businesses to renewable facilities will be a profitable enterprise or whether municipalities will be amenable to the new uses. However, New Jersey’s politicians are hoping that the renewable energy grants and incentives contained in the federal government’s new stimulus package will convince some to take the leap into a new era of “green” energy.