TRENTON – A weak economy and gas prices holding near the $4 per gallon mark are inspiring state lawmakers to seek ways to promote energy efficiency.
“The energy crisis facing this country and the threat of global warming is an absolute super stimulus to energy efficiency legislation and helping people cope,” said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), who is sponsoring several “green” bills that could receive consideration in the Legislature this fall.
“I think across the country you will see a wave of initiatives,” he said, including funding for transit systems, incentives for home modifications and government stimulus for alternative energy projects like solar and wind.
Among Smith’s proposals are:
- A bill to change the definition of farming to include solar and wind farms, which would affect up to a million acres in New Jersey and would offer tax breaks to farmers who harvested energy from the sun or wind.
- A bill to add production of solar and wind energy to the list of land uses deemed “inherently beneficial,” thereby making it easier to get approval for solar and wind farms.
- A bill requiring the state to use energy-efficient building materials and install energy-efficient systems in any new state buildings.
- A bill requiring water-saving sensors on industrial irrigation systems.
Sen. Bill Baroni (R-Mercer) has also proposed eliminating the state sales tax on new air conditioners, light bulbs and other products that carry the Energy Star rating. Baroni believes that bill would help stimulate the state’s economy in addition to encouraging environmentally-friendly purchases.
“When energy prices are this high and people are so agitated about it, elected officials feel obligated to demonstrate that they are doing something,” said political scientist Peter Woolley. “These bills are going to get a much better hearing because people are tuned into energy issues.”
“There will be more going on in New Jersey than any other place in the country,” predicted Smith. “In any crisis, there’s an opportunity.”