U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

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July 30, 2012

How do other communities use development regulations to encourage the installation of small-scale solar energy systems?


When communities address solar energy systems (i.e., photovoltaic, solar thermal, and building integrated) in their development regulations, they may define these systems as accessory structures, accessory uses, or primary uses. The major tension in this issue is potential tradeoffs between system optimization and aesthetic effects on surrounding properties.

Some communities permit accessory solar energy systems by right in all districts while others have special permitting processes that take into account site design and impacts to adjacent property owners. Over the past few years it has become increasingly common for communities to adopt specific standards for accessory solar energy systems to address placement issues without requiring a discretionary review.

Examples from PAS EIP-30

  • Bethany Beach (Delaware), Town of. 2010. Ordinance no. 455: An Ordinance to Add A New Chapter 484 "Solar Energy Systems" To The Town Code Of Bethany Beach.
  • Brown (Minnesota), County of. 2009. Zoning Ordinance. Section 4, Rules and Definitions; Part 402, Definitions. Section 7, Performance Standards; Part 702, Solar Energy Systems and Solar Structures.
  • Granville (North Carolina), County of. 2010. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 32, Land Development Code; Article III, Use Standards; Division 3, Section 32-162(5), Accessory Uses, Residential. Section 32-166(7), Accessory Uses, Nonresidential. Article XIX, Definitions – Solar. Tallahassee, Fla.: Municipal Code Corporation.
  • Hermosa Beach (California), City of. 2011. Municipal Code. Title 17, Zoning; Chapter 17.46, Yard, Height, and Area Restrictions; Section 17.46.220, Solar Energy Systems Can Exceed Height Limits.
  • Houston (Minnesota), County of. 2011. Zoning Ordinance. Section 28, General Provisions; Part 0110.2808, Solar Energy Systems and Solar Structures.
  • Irvine (California), City of. 2011. Zoning Ordinance. Division 3, General Development Standards and Land Use Regulations; Chapter 3-31, Solar Energy System Standards. Tallahassee, Fla.: Municipal Code Corporation.
  • Ithaca (New York), Town of. 2011. Town Code. Chapter 270, Zoning; Article III, Terminology; Section 270-5, Definitions. Article XXVI, Special Regulations; Section 270-219.1, Solar Collectors and Installations.
  • Minneapolis (Minneapolis), City of. 2011. Code of Ordinances. Title 20, Zoning Code; Chapter 535, Regulations of General Applicability; Article XII, Solar Energy Systems. Chapter 537, Accessory Uses and Structures; Section 537.110, Solar Energy System. Tallahassee, Fla.: Municipal Code Corporation.
  • Portland (Oregon), City of, Bureau of Development Services. 2010. Program Guide: Solar Water Heating and Photovoltaic Electric Generators Installed on One- or Two-Family Dwellings.  Also, Program Guide: Solar Water Heating and Photovoltaic Electric Generators Installed on Commercial Buildings.
  • Rock Hill (South Carolina), City of. 2011. Zoning Ordinance. Article 4, Use Regulations; Section 4-400, Accessory Uses and Structures; Table 4-400(B), Table of Permitted Accessory Uses. Part 4-400(D)(19), Accessory Uses and Structures Allowed – Ground-Mounted Solar Installations. Article 5, Density, Intensity, and Dimensional Standards; Table 5-200(A), Allowable Yard Encroachments. Article 6, Development and Design Standards; Section 6-800(B)(2)(e), Residential Design Standards – Roof Penetrations and Equipment. Section 6-800(C)(9)(c), Commercial and Institutional Design Standards - Roof Penetrations and Equipment. Article 10, Definitions.
  • Schaumburg (Illinois), Village of. 2011. Code of Ordinances. Title 15, Land Usage; Chapter 154, Zoning; Section 154.27, Definitions. Section 154.56, Solar Energy Systems. Section 154.58, Solar and Wind Energy System Figures. Section 154.62, Building Heights, Bulk Regulations, and Required Yards – Solar Access Protection.
  • Seattle (Washington), City of. 2011. Municipal Code. Title 23, Land Use Code; Subtitle III, Land Use Regulations; Division 2, Authorized Uses and Development Standards; Chapter 23.42, General Use Provisions; Section 23.42.130, Nonconforming Solar Collectors. Chapter 23.44, Residential, Single-Family; Section 23.44.046, Solar Collectors. Chapter 23.45, Residential, Multi-Family; Subchapter III, Accessory Uses; Section 23.45.545, Standards for Certain Accessory Uses – Solar Greenhouses, Greenhouses and Solariums. Chapter 23.47A, Commercial; Section 23.47A.012(C), Structure Height – Rooftop Features – Solar Collectors.
  • Troy (Michigan), City of. 2011. Zoning Ordinance. Article 2, Section 2.02, Definitions. Article 12, Sustainable Design and Development Standards; Section 12.05, Solar Structures and Easements.
  • Tucson (Arizona), City of. 2011. Land Use Code. Article III, Development Regulations; Division 2, Development Criteria; Section, Accessory Structures. Section, Exceptions to Perimeter Yards – Structures Within Perimeter Yards. Section Structure Height Measurement – Exceptions. Section Lot Coverage – Exceptions – Buildings. Section 3.2.12, Solar Orientation. Article VI, Definitions; Division 2, Listing of Words and Terms.
  • West Lake Hills (Texas), City of. 2011. Code of Ordinances. Chapter 22, Building Regulations; Article 22.03, Construction Code; Division 1, Generally; Section 22.03.009, Solar Energy Devices. Lubbock, Tex: Franklin Legal Publishing.

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