Regulating Solar Power at the Municipal Level

Municipalities regulate the use and locational aspects of solar power through their zoning ordinance. The actual development of grid-scale solar facilities is regulated through subdivision and land development ordinances, and all new solar facilities will need to comply with local municipal building codes.

Zoning ordinances should differentiate solar power as an accessory use to a home or business and solar power that will be a power generating facility and the primary use on a property.

Longwood Gardens

Residential and Commercial Scale Solar — Accessory Solar Systems

Zoning ordinances that address solar power as an accessory use, where the solar power is being used to power an individual home, commercial property, or institutional property should:

Grid-Scale Solar — Solar as the Principal Use

Municipalities that want to encourage grid-scale solar facilities, where the solar facility is the principal use on a property, should carefully determine where in the community they should be allowed.

All communities should allow grid-scale solar power generating facilities in at least one location in the municipality, often as a power generation facility in the industrial district. Communities may want to encourage these elsewhere. In commercial non-residential districts, they will often be allowed by right. In residential, agricultural, and institutional districts, municipalities may only want to allow grid-scale solar as a special exception or conditional use when specific criteria are met. Some municipalities have scattered sites, perhaps brownfield sites or nonconforming industrial properties, and may want to allow these properties to be developed for grid-scale solar. These can be permitted as an overlay, provided properties meet certain locational criteria.

Zoning ordinances that allow solar power as a primary use, where the solar power is grid-scale and is generating power for the electric grid, should:

Local Model Standards

Bucks County — Model Alternative Energy Ordinance

Cumberland County Planning Commission — Solar Energy Systems Model Ordinance.

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission — Renewable Energy Ordinance Framework