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Best Practices in Solar Planning & Zoning

In January, SolSmart hosted a webinar titled Best Practices in Solar Planning and Zoning, where we discussed best practices for including solar in land use plans and zoning ordinances. Several of our experts from across the country gave insightful presentations about addressing “solar-ready” concepts, setting solar development goals, and capturing the benefits of solar development while minimizing risks. These experts included:

Check out the recorded full-length webinar if you’d like to learn more!

Planning for Solar Energy

The webinar highlighted five elements of a solar-ready community:

  1. Comprehensive Plans that describe solar resources and encourage development
  2. Development Regulations that explicitly address solar development in its varied forms (e.g., rooftop solar v. solar farm)
  3. Permitting Processes that are predictable, transparent, and documented
  4. Public Sector Investment in the community’s solar resources
  5. Local Programs to limit market barriers and enable private sector solar development

Comprehensive Plans

Across the country, the integration of solar into comprehensive plans has evolved into a norm, if not a necessity, as solar energy becomes of greater economic and environmental value to local communities. Comprehensive plans are of particular importance because they are the policy foundation for a community’s development regulations and investments. Within a comprehensive plan, there are four key actions a community can take to advance solar:

 

Small-Scale Solar in the Zoning Code

Defining Solar

Clearly defining solar in zoning codes is very important. Not only does this inform residents and businesses about whether they can adopt solar, but it establishes the procedures for if and how solar installers and developers can operate. Contrary to conventional wisdom, not addressing solar in a zoning code is also a significant barrier to adoption and implementation. The lack of a definition, or an unclear definition, creates uncertainty for all stakeholders, leading to inefficient use of time, increased costs, and wasteful spending. As a result, local governments should develop a broad definition for solar energy which incorporates:

 

Defining Key Regulations

How solar is regulated within the zoning code is also critical to solar adoption. Certain requirements or restrictions can be a significant barrier to solar installations or development.

Land Use Considerations for Large-Scale Solar

For certain communities, large-scale solar can be very beneficial. As demand grows and costs drop, there will an increasing need to understand how to regulate large-scale solar to best optimize its economic, energy security, and environmental value for local communities.

What is Large-Scale PV?

Why Plan for Large-Scale PV?

According to a Department of Energy report, all solar PV is expected to grow to an estimated 1,618 GW by 2050, requiring an estimated 6.6 million acres of additional land for utility-scale PV, roughly equivalent to the size of Massachusetts. The main drivers of this deployment are the significant drop in the cost of solar energy, state and city clean energy goals, and corporate procurement. As a result, local governments can expect increased pressure for solar development.

Large-Scale PV Potential Benefits

Large-Scale Solar in Zoning Codes

Important factors local governments should consider in regulating large-scale solar:

Debunking Common Myths About Large-Scale PV

Low-Impact PV Development Benefits

There are steps that local communities can take to develop solar projects that can create environmental and agricultural benefits.


To learn more solar planning and zoning best practices, check out our Resources page which includes the full-length webinar and presentation slide deck. If you’re interested in learning more about SolSmart technical assistance or the designation process, request a consultation here.