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 leads GPI's renewable energy program, helping local, state and regional governments on clean energy, climate, and sustainability initiatives. He works on renewable energy policy and land use regulation, state rules, utility integration, and market transformation efforts. Brian led develoment 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 helped manage the PV Stormwater Management Research and Testing (PV-SMaRT) project, a ground-breaking 3-year initiative to develop science-based water quality best practices for large-scale solar. He is launching a new initiative under the U.S. DOE's SolarWEB program to develop an ecosystem framework for solar that addresses both physical and cultural issues of solar development. Brian serves on the national technical advisory team for the SolSmart solar-ready certification program and helped create and adminster GPI's pilot "EV-Smart Communities" recognition program. Brian helped create the Climate Champions program for APA's Sustainable Communities Division. </p>

Suzanne Rhees, AICP