Solar Energy and Land-Use Regulation

Zoning Practice — November 2010

By Brian Ross, AICP, Suzanne Rhees, AICP


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As solar energy gains a foothold as a source of energy for our homes and businesses, communities face multiple questions as they incorporate solar energy installations into their development regulations. ;While seemingly straightforward, putting solar panels on a roof raises a host of questions as to how a solar energy system fits into a typical set of land-use categories.

Is a rooftop solar installation merely a piece of equipment, like an air conditioner or water heater, that goes with the home or business? is the solar installation a separate use from the primary building, to be regulated under the provisions of accessory uses? What about a ground or pole-mounted system? Because solar electric energy systems produce power like a generator or a power plant, should these systems be regulated like other power generators? Can different types of solar systems be different types of land uses — one a piece of equipment, another a power plant?

This issue of Zoning Practice provides an update on the Solar America Cities (SAC) program and shares how SAC cities have made code changes in response to the program's call to identify and remove barriers to the use of solar energy in urban areas.


Page Count
Date Published
Nov. 1, 2010
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Brian Ross, AICP
<p>Brian Ross, AICP, leads GPI's renewable energy program, helping local, state and regional governments on clean energy, climate, and sustainability initiatives. He works on renewable and clean energy policy and land use regulation, state rules, utility integration, and market transformation efforts. Brian led development of state-specific model ordinances, land use best practices, and renewable energy planning guidance resources for six Midwestern states and provided technical assistance to dozens of communities on clean and resilient energy development. Brian helps lead the ground-breaking national PV-SMaRT project on the nexus of large-scale solar and host community surface water quality. He helped create GPI's pilot "EV-Ready Communities" recognition program that is underway in Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota and advises communities across the nation on EV-Smart zoning. Brian guided the creation of the Climate Champions program for APA's Sustainable Communities Division and serves on the national technical advisory team for the SolSmart solar-ready certification program. </p>

Suzanne Rhees, AICP