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Solar Energy

In recent years, many communities across the U.S. have taken a renewed interest in solar energy use. In some cases this interest is driven by a communitywide goal to lessen dependence on nonlocal fossil fuels, and in other cases it may be a reaction to rising demand from community members interested in installing solar energy systems on their homes, businesses, or property. One consequence of this renewed interest in solar energy has been a sharp increase in the number of communities that have added policy recommendations to their plans that support solar energy use and updated their development regulations and other plan implementation tools to clarify what types of solar energy systems are permissible in specific locations.

From this page you can search for resources that provide background or policy guidance on solar energy use, as well as examples of guides, plans, model codes, and regulations that encourage solar development. And you can filter these results by various geographic and demographic characteristics. 

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Planning for Solar Energy Use

Planners, local officials, and other community stakeholders typically support solar energy use for environmental or economic reasons. However, because most communities pursue multiple goals and strategies simultaneously, it is important for planners to help community stakeholders understand how using solar energy can affect other community resources and priorities.

Local comprehensive, functional, and subarea plans that include background information about the local solar resource and solar market conditions along with solar-supportive policy recommendations send clear signals to residents, business owners, and other community stakeholders about where and how solar energy use will be sanctioned or supported locally.

Zoning for Solar Energy Use

One of the biggest potential barriers to solar energy use is a lack of clarity in the local zoning code about what types of solar energy systems are permitted in what locations. Without clear use definitions and permissions, planners may be forced to make ad hoc determinations about whether a particular installation is permissible in a specific location.

Beyond this, communities can encourage solar energy use, while also mitigating potential conflicts, by helping updating development regulations with use-specific standards for different types of solar development and other complimentary standards. Standards for specific solar uses may address height, setbacks, screening, or decommissioning (among other topics). Meanwhile, communities can help protect or incentivize investments in solar energy by adding solar access protections, solar site design standards, solar-ready home requirements or incentives, and density bonuses or other development incentives to their development regulations.

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