Solar Siting

Careful site selection for renewable facilities of all types is important to minimize the loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat and forests that sequester carbon. 

Site Selection Considerations

There are several placements for solar sites that are preferable to the conversion of pristine natural habitat:

Rooftop or other built sites (e.g. parking lot canopies)

Some constraints to this placement are structural capacity and orientation of existing structures to support solar arrays

Ground-based arrays 

Can be built on previously developed or altered sites such as brownfields/old industrial sites or depleted gravel pits.

Solar Array Placement Regulations

Communities that want to regulate placement of solar arrays need to adopt local bylaws that are consistent with the State Zoning Act solar exemption.

The State Zoning Act solar exemption states in part that:

No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit or unreasonably regulate the installation of solar energy systems or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy, except where necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare.

The Department of Energy Resources has produced a model zoning bylaw to assist communities with zoning on solar arrays. The model bylaw includes the following guidance on siting:

Siting Preferences
Where a solar facility is sited, as well as placement on the site once selected, is an important consideration, particularly in regard to large-scale ground mounted facilities. [The Department of Energy Resources] DOER strongly discourages locations that result in significant loss of land and natural resources, including farm and forest land, and encourages rooftop siting, as well as locations in industrial and commercial districts, or on vacant, disturbed land. Significant tree cutting is problematic because of the important water management, cooling, and climate benefits trees provide.

Mass Audubon agrees with this guidance and encourages communities to adopt zoning that guides placement of solar arrays to appropriate locations—taking into account local natural resources and is consistent with good land-use planning principles. This includes consideration of the value of open lands for grassland and shrubland-dependent wildlife, many of which are in decline in the state and are of high conservation concern.

Improving State Siting Standards
Mass Audubon and some of our environmental partners sent a letter to Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matt Beaton informing him of concerns about siting of large ground mounted solar arrays in environmentally sensitive locations. Among our recommendations were the implementation of environmental protection siting standards for industrial scale arrays.  The response was positive and we are hopeful about making progress on this topic.

Learn More 

About community planning and sustainable development techniques. Mass Audubon's Shaping the Future of Your Community Outreach and Assistance Program