Model As-of Right Zoning Ordinance or Bylaw: Allowing Use of Large-Scale Solar Energy Facilities

May 26, 2023

Summary

Note: This model ordinance was designed to provide guidance to local governments seeking to develop siting rules for large-scale, ground-mounted solar (250 kW and above). While it was developed as part of a cooperative effort involving several state agencies, the model itself has no legal or regulatory authority.

As part of the Green Communities Act (passed in 2008), the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) developed an “as-of-right siting,”* model ordinance guiding the development of large-scale solar, which is defined as 250 kilowatts (kW) or more.

The model “as-of-right” siting must allow for ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations 250 kW (DC) or more. An essential part of “as-of-right” siting is the establishment of designated locations. Once the location(s) is (are) designated within a local jurisdiction, a solar development may proceed without the need for any special permits. A standard building permit and compliance with local zoning bylaws is required.

The state model includes the following provisions (these provisions are updated periodically):

  • Compliance with Laws, Ordinances, and Regulations Construction and operation of proposed large-scale ground-mounted solar facilities must be consistent with all applicable local, state, and federal requirements, including but not limited to all applicable safety, construction, electrical, and communications requirements.
  • Building Permit and Inspection All large-scale ground-mounted solar facilities must first obtain a building permit and work must then commence within 6 months (per state building code laws); extensions may be requested and granted multiple times.
  • Fees The fee required for a building permit.
  • Setbacks The model ordinance suggests front, side, and rear setbacks of 10 to 25 feet in typical situations, but at least 50 feet when the property borders residential and/or conservation-recreation districts.
  • Design Standards for Signs, Lighting, and Utility Connections Lighting should comply with local, state, and federal laws and should be designed to minimize lighting pollution. Signs should comply with local sign laws, include the owner of the project, and provide an emergency contact phone number. Reasonable efforts should be taken to place utility connections underground, depending on the site characteristics and utility provider's requirements.

The state model also includes provisions regarding utility notification, safety and environmental standards, monitoring and maintenance, solar facility removal requirements, and abandonment. The state model lists documents required for the site plan review, including a location map, a site plan, landscape plans, operation and maintenance plans, proof of liability insurance, a public outreach plan, and all relevant compliance documents (such as building permits and approvals).

For additional information on the model bylaw, see the DOER's Green Communities Grant Program Website.

*As-of-right siting is defined in the model ordinance as "development may proceed without the need for a special permit, variance, amendment, waiver, or other discretionary approval. As-of-right development may be subject to site plan review to determine conformance with local zoning ordinances or bylaws. Projects cannot be prohibited, but can be reasonably regulated by the inspector of buildings, building commissioner or local inspector, or if there is none in a town, the board of selectmen, or person or board designated by local ordinance or bylaw."

Program Overview

Implementing Sector: State
Category: Regulatory Policy
State: Massachusetts
Incentive Type: Solar/Wind Permitting Standards
Web Site: https://www.mass.gov/guides/becoming-a-designated-green-community#-green-communities-division-overview-
Administrator:
Start Date:
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies:
  • Solar Photovoltaics

Authorities

Name: Model As-of-Right Zoning Bylaw: Allowing Use of Large-Scale Ground-Mounted Solar Photovoltaic Installations

Contact

Name: Legal Department
Organization: Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources
Address: 100 Cambridge St.
Boston MA 02114
Phone: (617) 626-7300
Email: doer.energy@state.ma.us

This information is sourced from DSIRE; the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. Established in 1995, DSIRE is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University.