Updated Large-Scale Solar Guidance from Solar@Scale

A lot has happened since APA and ICMA published the first version of the Solar@Scale guidebook in September 2021. Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act — both providing strong support for investments in large-scale solar facilities. Meanwhile, global supply chain disruptions slowed solar deployment.

Local Planners Drive Large-scale Solar Development

Nevertheless, the central thesis of the Solar@Scale partnership holds and is more relevant than ever: The clean energy transition is underway, and planners and local officials have powerful tools at their disposal to shape where and how the community– and utility–scale solar facilities (Figure 1) fueling this transition will be sited and designed.

The newly released second edition of Solar@Scale: A Local Government Guidebook for Improving Large-Scale Solar Development Outcomes puts a sharper point on the stakes local governments have in making space for large-scale solar facilities. It includes an expanded discussion of the potential local benefits and tradeoffs associated with large-scale solar development, new examples of local policies and projects, references to dozens of new resources designed to help planners and local officials take specific actions, and updated facts and figures that capture evolving market conditions and projected future demand.

As the guidebook illustrates, planners have tremendous opportunities to facilitate community conversations about the distribution of benefits and costs associated with large-scale solar development. And we have a responsibility to ensure that zoning updates, and other local actions, that affect solar development connect to broader community goals (Table 1).

A community-scale solar facility, sited near homes and stores, is connected to the electricity distribution network, while a much larger utility-scale solar facility is connected to the electricity transmission network.

Figure 1. Community-scale versus utility-scale solar facilities

Table 1. Potential Zoning Updates to Advance BroaderGoals

Broader Goal Potential Zoning Updates
Clean Energy Transition Designate large-scale solar facilities as permissible uses, subject to reasonable standards and development charges.
Low-Impact Siting and Design Adopt standards that incentivize or require large-scale solar facilities to establish native, pollinator-friendly groundcover or combine solar power production with agricultural activities.

Adopt standards that incentivize solar facilities on previously developed sites.
Equitable Development Designate community-scale solar facilities as permissible or potentially permissible uses, subject to reasonable standards and development charges.

Adopt standards that incentivize shared solar projects.
Community Resilience Designate solar facilities that include energy storage as permissible or potentially permissible uses, subject to reasonable standards and development charges.

Adopt standards that incentivize microgrid projects.

Solar@Scale: A Plan for Success

The demand for new solar facilities will affect hundreds (if not thousands) more cities, towns, and counties in the coming decades. If your community still hasn't established a vision for the role large-scale solar development should play in its future and updated its zoning regulations to increase the likelihood of that vision becoming reality, the refreshed Solar@Scale guidebook is the best place to start. If the conversation in your community is ongoing, Solar@Scale provides more advanced guidance to help you maximize your success.

Cover of Solar@Scale guidebook.

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.

Have a question about Solar@Scale or want to share your experiences with planning and zoning for large-scale solar development? Contact solar@planning.org.

Top image: Photo by Rob Davis, AgriSolar Clearinghouse, Flickr

About the Author
David Morley, AICP, is APA's research program and QA manager.

January 24, 2023

By David Morley, AICP