Planning for Utility-Scale Solar Energy Facilities

PAS Memo — September-October 2019

By Darren Coffey, AICP


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Solar photovoltaics (PV) are the fastest-growing energy source in the world, and utility-scale solar installations are the most cost-effective solar PV option. Federal and state tax incentives have accelerated the energy industry’s efforts to bring facilities online as quickly as possible — but this has created a new challenge for local governments, as many are ill-prepared to consider this new and unique land-use option. How should planners evaluate utility-scale solar facility applications, update their communities' land-use regulations, and achieve positive benefits for hosting these clean energy facilities?

This PAS Memo examines utility-scale solar facility uses and related land-use issues. It defines and classifies these facilities, analyzes their land-use impacts, and makes recommendations for how to evaluate and mitigate those impacts. Specific recommendations and sample language for addressing utility-scale solar in comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances are provided at the end of the article.


Page Count
Date Published
Sept. 1, 2019
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Author

Darren Coffey, AICP
Darren K. Coffey, AICP, is co-owner of The Berkley Group, a local government consulting firm in Virginia. Prior to forming The Berkley Group, he worked as a land-use planner for various localities in North Carolina and Virginia. Coffey has bachelor of science degrees in economics and geography from James Madison University, a master of arts in geography from Rutgers University, and attained AICP certification in 2000. He may be reached at