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/founder of The Berkley Group, a local government consulting firm based in Virginia. Darren earned his Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Geography in 1992, his Master’s in Geography in 1993, his planning certification in 2000, and he has served as an adjunct professor at James Madison University, his alma mater. He has served the public sector since 1995, first as a Park Planner in Charlotte, NC, then a Town Planner and Community Development Manager in Blacksburg, VA and a Planning Director in the Virginia counties of Louisa and Fluvanna. These experiences have provided a broad perspective of the various local government dynamics. His experience includes many facets of local government from administration, planning, economic development, grant administration, transportation, parks & recreation, among others. That experience led to the development of The Berkley Group. Darren currently lives near Charlottesville, Virginia and has three children.