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Incentives/Policies for Renewables & Efficiency

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

Last DSIRE Review: 02/21/2013
Program Overview:
State: Massachusetts
Incentive Type: Solar/Wind Permitting Standards
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies: Photovoltaics
Applicable Sectors: Local Government
Web Site:

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.

The Green Communities Act was passed in 2008. As part of this Act, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) 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 would be 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, environmental, electrical, communications, and aviation 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-set backs of between 10 to 25 feet in typical situations, but at least 50 feet when the property borders residential and/or conservation-recreation districts.
  • Signs and Lighting Lighting should comply with local, state, and federal laws and should be designed to minimize lighting pollution. Signs should comply with local sign laws and include the owner of the project and provide an emergency contact phone number.

The state model also includes provisions regarding solar facility removal requirements, abandonment, project financial surety, and liability insurance. The state model lists documents required for the site plan review, including a location map, a site plan, landscape plans, operation and maintenance plans, 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."

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Disclaimer: The information presented on the DSIRE web site provides an unofficial overview of financial incentives and other policies. It does not constitute professional tax advice or other professional financial guidance, and it should not be used as the only source of information when making purchasing decisions, investment decisions or tax decisions, or when executing other binding agreements. Please refer to the individual contact provided below each summary to verify that a specific financial incentive or other policy applies to your project.

While the DSIRE staff strives to provide the best information possible, the DSIRE staff, the N.C. Solar Center, N.C. State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. make no representations or warranties, either express or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability or suitability of the information. The DSIRE staff, the N.C. Solar Center, N.C. State University and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. disclaim all liability of any kind arising out of your use or misuse of the information contained or referenced on DSIRE Web pages.

Copyright 2014 - 2015 North Carolina State University, under NREL Subcontract No. XEU-0-99515-01. Permission granted only for personal or educational use, or for use by or on behalf of the U.S. government. North Carolina State University prohibits the unauthorized display, reproduction, sale, and/or distribution of all or portions of the content of the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) without prior, written consent.