Solar@Scale: A Local Government Guidebook for Improving Large-Scale Solar Development Outcomes

Third Edition

By Alexsandra Gomez, David Morley, AICP



Every community across the U.S. has access to an affordable and abundant energy source in the form of radiant light and heat from the sun. While small rooftop solar energy systems are common in many cities, towns, and counties across the country, comparatively few local jurisdictions have had direct experience with large-scale solar energy facilities.

As demand for solar power increases, many local government officials want to help the communities they serve to capture the benefits of new large-scale solar projects. Furthermore, because these projects represent a new land use in many jurisdictions, many local officials are curious about the tradeoffs associated with large-scale solar development.

This guidebook aims to help local government practitioners — including planners, economic development professionals, local government managers, and elected and appointed officials — make decisions that improve large-scale solar development outcomes. It contains eight related, but semi-independent, modules.

Modules 1 and 2 provide a broad overview of foundational concepts related to large-scale solar development. Modules 3, 4, and 5 examine how local government practitioners can use plans, zoning regulations, and land-use decision-making processes to maximize the local benefits and minimize the tradeoffs associated with community- and utility-scale solar projects. Finally, Modules 6, 7, and 8 briefly explore other actions practitioners can take to support large-scale solar development.

Each module concludes with key takeaways and a list of references and links to supplemental resources.

Solar@Scale is a partnership between the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the American Planning Association (APA) that aims to help cities, towns, counties, and special districts understand and realize the potential benefits of large-scale solar development.

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.


Page Count
Date Published
Dec. 21, 2023
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association, ICMA

About the Authors

Alexsandra Gomez
Alexsandra Gomez is a policy analyst at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Her work is primarily in the Safe and Complete Streets program. She formerly worked as a research associate at the American Planning Association, where she supported sponsored and strategic research projects and write for APA publications. She has a background in cultural geography and anthropology and applies these disciplines to planning research and practice. Her research interests include urban political ecology, geographies of power, and equitable community-led development.

David Morley, AICP
David Morley, AICP, is a Research Program and QA Manager at the American Planning Association in Chicago, where he manages and contributes to sponsored research projects; manages the development of the Research KnowledgeBase; develops, organizes, and participates in educational sessions and workshops; and writes for APA publications. Mr. Morley also edits Zoning Practice.

Table of Contents

Module 1. Defining Large-Scale Solar Development
Understanding the Basics of Solar Development
Putting Scale in Context
Understanding the Benefits of Solar Development
Understanding the Tradeoffs of Solar Development
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 2. Understanding the Market for Large-Scale Solar Development
Identifying Solar Development Trends
Identifying Influences on Local Demand
Identifying Authorities Having Jurisdiction
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 3. Community Planning for Large-Scale Solar Development
Deciding to Make or Update a Plan
Fostering Authentic Public Participation
Assessing Current Conditions and Trends
Setting Goals and Objectives
Selecting Strategies
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 4. Zoning for Large-Scale Solar Development
Defining Key Terms
Specifying Permissible Uses
Establishing Development Standards
Establishing Procedural Standards
Establishing Development Charges
Offering Development Incentives
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 5. Improving Land-Use Decision-Making for Large-Scale Solar Development
Improving Applicant Submissions
Reviewing Proposed Projects
Negotiating Community Benefits
Conducting Public Hearings
Inspecting Approved Projects
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 6. Hosting Large-Scale Solar Development Projects
Identifying Project Goals
Selecting Potential Sites
Selecting Development Partners
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 7. Assisting Large-Scale Solar Development
Providing Technical Assistance
Providing Financial Assistance
Key Takeaways
References and Resources

Module 8. Maximizing Success
Monitoring and Evaluating Performance
Aligning Land-Use and Utility Plans
Enhancing Resilience
Preparing for Innovation
Key Takeaways
References and Resources