Knowledgebase Collection

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 portal you can search hundreds of examples of solar-supportive plans, development regulations, and other planning-related implementation tools. You can filter search results by resource type and various demographic and geographic characteristics. Whether your community is large or small and has mild or harsh winters, you’re likely to find some peers here that have taken steps that make it easier for residents and businesses to use solar energy.

APA Resources

Planning for Solar Energy (PAS Report 575)

This PAS report provides planners with a basic rationale for planning for solar energy use, summarizes the fundamental characteristics of the U.S. solar market as they relate to local solar energy use, and explains how planners can take advantage of five strategic points of intervention to promote solar energy use.

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Solar Powering Sunnyside

This Solar Powering Sunnyside is a new participatory planning exercise that uses game play to help community members understand solar development options from a land-use planning perspective.

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Planning for Solar Energy Briefing Papers

This series of six briefing papers covers a range of specific topics related to planning for solar energy use. Each paper tackles a different aspect of the issue with a special emphasis on how local plans and implementation tools can reduce barriers to local solar energy use.

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Planning for Solar Energy (PAS QuickNotes)

This handout presents an overview of five strategic points of intervention for promoting solar energy use.

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Using Solar Energy to Enhance Community Resilience

This recorded webinar explores how communities can use solar development to enhance resilience.

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Promoting Solar Energy Use Through Local Planning

This webinar series focused on three topics central to local planning efforts: acknowledging the importance of the solar resource from a local policy perspective, incorporating solar-supportive policies into local plans, and adopting solar-friendly development regulations.

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Comprehensive Plans

The comprehensive plan, sometimes referred to as the general plan or the master plan, is the foundational policy document for local governments. It provides the legal foundation for local land-use and development regulations, and it serves as a guide for public investments and other programmatic initiatives. Consequently, comprehensive plans with policy recommendations that support solar energy use can pave the way for future public facility construction or rehabilitation and private development projects that incorporate passive solar design or solar energy systems.

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Model Codes

Model development regulations that address solar energy use can provide helpful guidance to communities looking to update zoning and subdivision ordinances or other land-use and development regulations. All of the model codes collected here explicitly address removing regulatory barriers to different types of solar development.

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Development Regulations

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 or not 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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Subarea Plans

Subarea plans are plans that include policy recommendations for a discrete geographic area within a jurisdiction. These include plans for specific sectors, neighborhoods, corridors, or special districts. Subarea plans can provide more detail about preferred locations for solar installations and go into greater depth about regulations, incentives, and potential competing interests that may either support or inhibit solar energy use in a particular subarea of a community.

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Functional Plans

Functional plans are standalone plans for systems or special topics that are not, fundamentally, rooted in a single subarea of a community. Examples include sustainability plans, climate action plans, and energy plans. Many communities have adopted functional plans that include policy recommendations that support solar energy use.

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Design Guidelines and Developer Guides

Many communities adopt site or building design guidelines to help clarify communitywide or district- or project-specific design goals. Generally, these design guidelines supplement local development regulations for specific uses, structures, or zoning districts. In some instances these guidelines explicitly address solar energy systems or solar site design.

Some communities produce guides to help property owners and developers understand development regulations and navigate development review and approval processes. Occasionally, these documents include specific guidance for solar development scenarios.

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Solar Maps

Some communities use solar maps to help community members understand opportunities for using solar energy or to track the locations and types of different solar installations.

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