Solar Energy and Land-Use Regulation

Zoning Practice — November 2010

By Brian Ross, AICP, Suzanne Rhees, AICP


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As solar energy gains a foothold as a source of energy for our homes and businesses, communities face multiple questions as they incorporate solar energy installations into their development regulations. ;While seemingly straightforward, putting solar panels on a roof raises a host of questions as to how a solar energy system fits into a typical set of land-use categories.

Is a rooftop solar installation merely a piece of equipment, like an air conditioner or water heater, that goes with the home or business? is the solar installation a separate use from the primary building, to be regulated under the provisions of accessory uses? What about a ground or pole-mounted system? Because solar electric energy systems produce power like a generator or a power plant, should these systems be regulated like other power generators? Can different types of solar systems be different types of land uses — one a piece of equipment, another a power plant?

This issue of Zoning Practice provides an update on the Solar America Cities (SAC) program and shares how SAC cities have made code changes in response to the program's call to identify and remove barriers to the use of solar energy in urban areas.


Page Count
Date Published
Nov. 1, 2010
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American Planning Association

About the Authors

Brian Ross, AICP
Brian Ross, AICP, is a Vice President at the Great Plains Institute, leading GPI’s renewable energy market transformation efforts in the Midwest and nationally. Over 30 years, he has worked extensively with local, regional, and state governments on climate and energy planning, policy and regulation. Brian currently leads multiple efforts at both the state and national level on integrating renewable energy development with natural systems, community priorities, and agriculture business models, and a solar/drinking water protection project. Brian has written numerous model ordinances for local government and adapted models for local implementation, developed ecosystem and community co-benefit best practices for renewable energy projects, and works nationally with the SolSmart program, the PV-SMaRT project, and other wind, solar, and hydrogen, and electric vehicle initiatives.

Suzanne Rhees, AICP
Suzanne Sutro Rhees, AICP, has worked across many facets of the planning field for over 30 years.  With a Master's in Regional Planning from the University of Pennsylvania, she has worked in the public and private sectors as a project manager, lead planner, writer and editor, with a focus on urban design traditional neighborhood zoning. In her current position as Special Projects Coordinator for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, she works to develop and launch programs and initiatives that support climate mitigation, landscape resilience, and soil health. She's especially excited about her work with many partners advancing peatland restoration as a natural climate solution.