Solar-Friendly Zoning: Getting Started

Natural History Museum
The Natural History Musuem of Utah is powered by a 330 kilowatt solar PV system. The building was constructed to reflect the natural landscape of the Salt Lake City foothills, and the solar panels help the museum to meet its environmental goals.

Solar-friendly zoning rules help citizens take advantage of the solar resource shining on their property every day, and prevents conflicts between neighbors over access to sunlight.

Solar access can be obstructed by buildings on another property, and foliage or buildings casting shade across property lines can determine whether and how an individual can take advantage of the solar resource on their property. The economic benefits of a solar energy system are directly correlated with uninterrupted access to sunlight. An average solar PV system is warrantied for 25 years (and often continues to operate well beyond that time frame), and a building designed to minimize lighting, heating and cooling by using passive solar design elements relies on access to sunlight. Neighboring properties could change ownership several times over the course of a solar PV system or passive solar building's lifetime, so protecting a property owner's right to access and harness the rays of the sun can help avoid conflicts in the future.

The buildings and developments constructed today will be standing for decades, if not longer. By accomodating solar-ready building techniques into the zoning and construction of new buildings, future citizens and businesses will have the choice to utilize solar energy. Simple decisions like the orientation of lots and roofs can make a building ready to accomodate active or passive solar technologies in the future.

Consideration of solar-friendly zoning is integral to developing comprehensive and well-balanced local ordinances and master plans that allow citizens the choice, now and in the future, to power their homes with clean solar energy.

As local government officials explore ways to protect solar rights, ensure solar access, and encourage solar development locally, the following questions may provide a good starting point for determining how current practices can be modified or improved to be more solar-friendly:

1. What percent of structures in your jurisdiction are zoned to allow rooftop solar "as a matter of right" or "by right"?

2. Is there a law that protects property owner rights to install solar systems on their property? Does the law protect from both local ordinances and restrictive covenants?

3. What type of enforcement mechanism, if any, is used to support solar rights?

4. Utah’s Solar Access law allows for the creation of a solar easement between two property owners. Is there a local law or ordinance that encourages solar owners to execute and/or register solar easements upon the issuance of a solar permit?

5. Are there state or local standards for new construction that reduce barriers to solar deployment?

6. What percent of structures are zoned to allow rooftop solar only after a public hearing or the issuance of a special use permit?

7. Is there process for a solar system to be registered in order to protect solar access?

8. Does your community encourage solar with incentives or expedited processes?

9. Are there provisions in local zoning code that encourage or require solar-ready construction?  

10. Has your jurisdiction conducted a thorough review of local ordinances to identify barriers to solar adoption?

11. Have you considered adopting a model solar ordinance?

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