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Planning, Zoning and Development Regulations

*Pre-requisite for SolSmart designation

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5 points

5 points

The zoning ordinance creates statutory limits on what individuals may do with their property as a matter of right and often provides additional processes to consider special exceptions. By removing barriers to solar within the zoning ordinance, including the examples listed in the bullet above, a local government can reduce the cost of solar adoption. In many instances, removing restrictions zoning prohibiting PV development can save property owners time and money because they could avoid going through a more extensive special exception process to have their solar system considered. Examples include: height restrictions, set-back requirements, allowing solar “by-right” in residential and commercial zones without requiring a conditional use permit.

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*Pre-requisite for SolSmart Silver and Gold designation

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The zoning ordinance stipulates how and what a property owner may do with his/her property as a matter of right. Ordinances frequently provide for special exception procedures to consider proposals that are inconsistent with current zoning, which can be long and costly processes. Allowing solar by-right and as an accessory use in all major zoning categories will allow property owners to install solar PV systems as a matter of right as stipulated in the zoning, which can increase solar adoption and lower costs for residents and local governments.

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5 points

5 points

Planning documents provide the foundation for a community’s vision for how and where it would like future development to occur. Comprehensive, sub-area, and functional plans also provide policy guidance to the local government as it weighs how future government aligns with other planning objectives. Identifying ways to integrate solar PV into these documents (e.g. comprehensive plan, energy plan, and climate plan) is critical step to increasing local adoption.

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5 points

Historic districts are generally created as overlay districts on top of the existing zoning category. Typically, the act of creating these districts is accompanied by the development of specific design guidelines that outline how a property owner may modify a structure while maintaining the historical nature of the structure and surrounding neighborhood. Frequently design guidelines can hinder or prevent the installation of solar systems in historic districts.

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10 points

The comprehensive plan is a community’s foundational document which guides future local development and is often composed of subsections, such as transportation, housing, and land use. Many states require localities to develop and maintain a comprehensive plan under state law. Localities can also develop functional plans, or stand-alone plans, that address other policy areas. Localities may adopt functional plans addressing energy or climate change which could set goals and/or objectives, and could include specific references to renewable energy such as solar. Since development is governed largely by the components of the comprehensive plan and guided by the policies outlined in other functional plans, it is important for communities to integrate solar specifically in these documents.

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10 points

The orientation and design of a structure can have a large impact on its ability to take advantage of active or passive solar. Communities can encourage the implementation of solar-ready designs in new construction by providing developers with solar-ready construction guidelines.

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20 points

Creating development incentives, such as allowing for increased height or density beyond what is permitted by the underlying zoning, for site with installed solar can provide local developers with an additional motivation to spur solar adoption locally. This can be a particularly useful strategy for communities with high percentages of residents living in multi-family buildings.

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20 points

Many communities have underutilized or undeveloped lots, along with contaminated sites, which could be ideal locations for solar development. Communities can create incentives to encourage development by streamlining processes, reducing costs, or providing financial support for development projects on these underutilized sites.

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10 points

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