This document is designed to help New York State localities amend zoning and other land use regulations to permit the development of solar energy systems in their jurisdictions. While it applies to many types of solar energy systems, this resource guide focuses primarily on solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) systems. It begins by describing the local government’s role in land use planning and regulation. It then discusses the importance of defining all solar energy systems that a community wants to allow in existing zoning districts and shows how to incorporate those definitions in the zoning ordinance. Next, the guide explains how a municipality can amend zoning to permit these systems either as principal, secondary, accessory, or specially permitted land uses in existing zoning districts, as well as how to exempt certain systems from zoning altogether. The resource then explains how relevant bulk and area requirements must be amended to accommodate permitted solar energy systems. Subsequently, the guide discusses how to amend site plan requirements to include standards for solar energy systems, examines how local governments can modify environmental impact review under SEQRA, and considers the role of other local boards in streamlining the approval process for solar energy systems. Beyond permitting solar energy systems, the guide discusses ways to amend land use laws to either require or encourage them. Throughout, this document provides helpful resources and examples that communities can use when regulating to allow, encourage, or require various solar energy systems. Although land use terminology may vary by regional and jurisdictional practice, the examples generally represent approaches discussed throughout the guide. The examples are intended to be illustrative samples and are not intended to be an endorsement of the content.
Zoning for Solar Energy: Resource Guide
Jessica Bacher and John Nolon
White Plains, NY: Land Use Law Center
February 12, 2018
Reports and Guides
Land Use Planning, Solar Siting