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State Street: Bill aims to prevent dune and gloom along Shore

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State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) wants to make sure a 2012 court ruling doesn't short-circuit efforts to build dunes along the New Jersey shoreline.

Smith, chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, said he's working on a bill to require judges to consider the property protection value of dunes when calculating property values in condemnation proceedings.

The move is necessary, he said, because a state appeals court last year ruled that shoreline homeowners must be compensated for losses of property value caused when dunes obstruct ocean views.

"You're going to have every property owner saying 'I want my $350,000 if you're going to build a dune,' " Smith said. "There will never be another dune built in New Jersey. And that's the one thing we need."

Smith said it's reasonable for the Legislature to require judges to look at the economic benefits of dunes in protecting communities from storms and flooding. He hopes the financial value of that protection will neutralize the theoretical loss to property values caused by dunes.

"I think it would significantly offset it and get (condemnation costs) back to a more reasonable value," he said.

A serious blow to coast's wind power manufacturing goals

New Jersey's goal of becoming a wind energy manufacturing hub took a major blow last month when the application deadline for a $100 million tax credit pool quietly passed.

The state's Offshore Wind Economic Development Act of 2010 set aside $100 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credit funding for wind manufacturing. Wind energy proponents have long dreamed of making the Garden State a manufacturing hub to fuel a future East Coast wind industry. But the deadline to apply for a share of the $100 million was Jan. 13.

"The EDA did not receive any application for projects under the set aside," Rachel Hartman, an Economic Development Authority spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel lays the blame firmly at the feet of the Board of Public Utilities, which has yet to release regulations for the offshore renewable energy credit program created by the 2010 legislation. OREC, modeled after a popular solar incentive, is meant to provide production-based payments to companies that develop wind resources off the Shore.

Without the OREC rules, Tittel said, "the wind companies can't get investors."

Tittel and others are now pushing the Legislature to extend the deadline so companies will have a chance to apply after the BPU puts out its OREC rules. But it may be too late: Tittel said other states, most notably Maryland and Massachusetts, are making their own pushes into wind energy.

Contributing: Joshua Burd

Fueling interest in electric vehicle charging stations

New Jersey may soon see more electric vehicle charging stations, but a green transport advocate says there's more the state can do.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Paramus) is sponsoring a bill calling on the state Department of Transportation to encourage the development of electric vehicle charging stations as part of any project funded by the Transportation Trust Fund.

"If we want to encourage people to invest in fuel-efficient, environment-friendly cars, then we have to develop the infrastructure to promote it and sustain it," he said, in a press release.

Chuck Feinberg, chair of the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, said he's not opposed to Eustace's bill, but he doesn't think it's the most effective way to green the state's transportation system.

"Rather than looking or focusing first on passenger vehicles, which is what's on the market for electric (vehicles), we should be focusing more on the fleets and heavy duty fleets," Feinberg said.

The best solution for fleets, Feinberg said, is natural gas. Feinberg's coalition is using a Department of Energy grant to help 15 fleet owners switch to natural gas and build six natural gas fueling stations. New Jersey Natural Gas and South Jersey Gas also are working on fueling station development.

Though Feinberg's excited about the new fueling stations, he thinks the state would do better to incentivize the purchase of greener vehicles, "because if the vehicles become more easily available … the private sector will step up to put the infrastructure in place to fuel those vehicles."

Blocking card surcharge is a wasted bill, says advocate

The head of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association says a new bill prohibiting retailers from placing surcharges on credit card transactions is a solution in search of a problem.

"I think you'll be hard pressed to find a retailer who is willing to, or has even considered, implementing a surcharge," said John Holub, the association's president.

The bill was introduced last week by Sens. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield), Bob Gordon (D-Fair Lawn) and Nia H. Gill (D-Montclair). It comes less than a week after Visa and MasterCard changed their contractual rules to let retailers use surcharges to offset the "swipe fees" credit card companies charge retailers.

Holub said the bill isn't necessary, because retailers aren't interested in surcharges, but rather in lower swipe fees. But even if retailers wanted to use surcharges, Holub said, in many cases, they couldn't.

That's because 10 states already ban surcharges, and credit card companies require retailers with multistate operations to have consistent surcharge policies across all their stores. Thus, any retailer with stores in the 10 states (including New York) can't charge surcharges in New Jersey. Nor can stores that take American Express, which has higher swipe fees, but bans surcharges.

That leaves small, independent retailers as the only ones with the option of adding surcharges. Holub said they won't do it because it could alienate customers.

"It's just bad for business," he said.

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