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Solar Zoning in Great Lakes States

Program: Center for EmPowering Communities
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This project, launched in 2021 and funded for three years by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office, will equip stakeholders in rural communities to make informed zoning decisions about utility-scale solar photovoltaics (PV).

Continued growth in solar photovoltaics will rely on more utility-scale PV deployment, which often occurs in rural areas. Many rural zoning ordinances are silent on utility-scale PV, which introduces significant risk and time delays to solar developers looking to site projects in these communities. Through prior community engagement, the research team learned that many rural communities lack zoning rules for utility-scale PV because they lack objective measures of how utility-scale solar will affect their economies.

This project aims to fill that gap by understanding how knowledge flows through rural communities, how utility-scale PV will affect rural economies, and how community stakeholders absorb PV-related information, then combining insights from those three areas to disseminate knowledge to community stakeholders. The phased research approach combines extensive stakeholder engagement, experiments, and economic and power system modeling to characterize, generate, and disseminate knowledge on how utility-scale PV affects rural economies.

In filling critical knowledge gaps and disseminating the information through trusted partners and effective means, the research team aims to convince rural communities to establish zoning ordinances that clearly address utility-scale PV. Whether those zoning ordinances allow or prohibit utility-scale PV, both cases will eliminate uncertainty and associated costs and barriers created by the omission of utility-scale PV in local zoning ordinances.

Drawing upon our existing community ties from prior work, the project includes an advisory board of leaders from government, non-profit, and solar energy organizations. The project will occur in the Great Lakes region, but results are expected to translate nationally.

The project will have the following key impacts:

  1. Fill knowledge gaps and enable more rural communities to include utility-scale PV in zoning ordinances; and,
  2. Reduce soft costs of and deployment barriers for utility-scale PV in rural areas.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office accelerates the advancement and deployment of solar technology in support of an equitable transition to a decarbonized economy. Learn more at