Solar Zoning, Building Code, and Permitting

Planning and Zoning            Building Code           Permitting

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), solar energy now makes up about 2% of all electricity generated in the United States, and solar power generation is expected to more than double in the next 5 years. The solar market added 10.6 GW of solar in 2018, with solar making up about 30% of all new power generation projects. Currently, there are about 1.9 million solar installations across the county, with a cumulative capacity of over 64 GW, or enough capacity to power 12.3 million homes!

Through the commitment of New York State and the NY-Sun Initiative, New York State is ranked 10th in the country based on the cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2018, with 1,628 MW installed, or enough to power 281,000 homes. There are currently more than 800 solar companies at work throughout New York, employing close to 10,000 people. The cost of solar continues to drop, falling 47% over the last 5 years.

 

The CNY RPDB assists local governments, customers, contractors, lenders and others to make it easier, faster, and more affordable to go solar through the adoption of proven best management practices, training materials, and methods.

 

The following resources have been created to assist decision makers in New York State localities who have responsibilities in zoning, permitting and inspecting solar electric systems. NYSERDA's Solar Guidebook may also be helpful to municipalities managing solar energy development in their communities.

Planning and Zoning
Planning

 

Communities that are ready to begin planning for solar energy use often wonder where to start. There are five strategic points of intervention in a community’s planning system where planners, local officials, and other stakeholders can support solar energy use.

 

  1. Visioning and Goal Setting

  2. Plan Making

  3. Public Investment

  4. Development Work

  5. Regulations and Incentives

 

A comprehensive plan is a written document that identifies aspirations for a community’s immediate and long-range protection, enhancement, growth, and development. Because New York State requires local land use regulations to conform to a locality’s comprehensive plan, it’s important to include language that supports solar energy in the comprehensive plan and lays the policy foundation for solar energy regulations. Elements in a comprehensive plan to support and facilitate solar energy system development may include:

 
  • Planning Goals

  • Objectives

  • Strategies/Policies

  • Implementation Measures/Actions

The comprehensive plan is the legal foundation that legitimizes local land-use regulations. As such, it is important for plan authors to establish a policy foundation in the comprehensive plan for development regulations that affect solar energy use. Ideally, the local comprehensive plan is a pri­mary guide not only for updates to development regulations but also for the creation of local capital improvements plans, which detail planned capital expenditures over a multiyear period. By extension, comprehensive plans with goals, objectives, policies, and actions that support solar development can pave the way for future public facility construction or rehabilitation and private development projects that incorporate passive solar design or solar energy systems.

 

There are significant guidance documents and resources available including model language and community examples available through the American Planning Association, and CNY RPDB staff can assist your community in taking steps to address and encourage clean energy development.

Zoning

 

Solar energy in New York increased more than 1,000 percent from 2011 to 2017.  Here in Central New York, the market has grown by 2,400% during the same period. This tremendous growth has been spurred by the state’s $1 billion NY-SUN initiative and by declining costs and improved efficiencies within the solar industry.

 

The state’s new Shared Renewables initiative has opened up new opportunities for local clean energy projects, particularly solar.  Under the Shared Renewables initiative (also referred to as community distributed generation or “community solar”), customers can join together to share in the benefits of local solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects. Each individual member’s share of the production will appear as a credit on their monthly utility bill.  Members can be businesses, individuals, municipalities or not-for-profit organizations.

As a result of this new initiative, hundreds of new community solar projects have been proposed across the state.  Many of these proposed projects are larger-scale, ground-mounted systems that can occupy ten or more acres of land. Local land use regulation will play a key role in the appropriate development of community solar and other solar projects in our region.

 

In order to ensure that solar resources are developed in a way that protects the environment and preserves community character, the CNY RPDB has created a model zoning ordinance.  The model zoning ordinance was developed to assist local governments to address land use concerns and to provide clear guidance and direction to developers and property owners for the appropriate development of solar energy systems.

 

The model ordinance is not intended to be fixed, and can be amended to fit your community’s specific circumstances. CNY RPDB staff are available to assist in the review and incorporation of the code into existing zoning ordinances.

 

Please feel free to contact Chris Carrick at 315-422-8276 ext. 1213 or at ccarrick@cnyrpdb.org if you have any questions or would like to schedule a meeting to review the model ordinance and how the CNY RPDB can assist your community.

 
Building Code

In 1981, New York State adopted Article 18 of the Executive Law providing for the development and implementation of a comprehensive building and fire code. Executive Law § 381 requires every city, town and village to administer and enforce the Uniform Code, which includes the Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code (Uniform Code) and State Energy Conservation Construction Code (Energy Code).

 

The provisions of the code apply to the construction, alteration, movement, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, maintenance, removal and demolition of every building or structure or any appurtenances connected or attached to such buildings or structures, including Solar Energy Systems.  Building permits are required for work which must conform to the Uniform Code, and a certificate of compliance shall be required for any work which is the subject of a building permit. These requirements place the responsibility of permitting, inspecting, and approving solar installations on local code enforcement officers.

 

Fortunately, New York State has been forward thinking in this manner and has provided a Uniform Building and Electrical permit and process for municipalities to utilize in permitting systems up to 25kW (typical residential and small commercial). All other systems are required to follow typical building permit processes, although a commercial permit and process are under development.

 
Permitting

Adoption of a standardized residential/small business solar permit is a key element to help New York State municipalities remove barriers to local economic development in the growing solar industry. New York State’s standardized permit will cut costs by creating a uniform permitting process in municipalities across the State. As municipalities adopt the permit, installers and municipalities alike will save time and resources permitting PV systems. Adopting the Unified Solar Permit is also one of the ten high-priority action items of the Clean Energy Communities program.  

 

The following communities in Central New York have adopted the streamlined solar permit:​

  1. Auburn City

  2. Aurelius Town

  3. Aurora Village

  4. Baldwinsville Village

  5. Brutus Town

  6. Camillus Town

  7. Camillus Village

  8. Canastota Village

  9. Cato Village

  10. Cayuga Village

  11. Cazenovia Town

  12. Cazenovia Village

  13. Clay Town

  14. Cleveland Village

  15. Cortland City

  16. Cortlandville Town

  17. DeRuyter Town

  18. DeWitt Town

  19. East Syracuse Village

  20. Eaton Town

  21. Elbridge Town

  22. Fabius Town

  23. Fair Haven Village

  24. Fayetteville Village

  25. Fenner Town

  26. Fulton City

  27. Geddes Town

  28. Genoa Town

29. Georgetown Town

30. Granby Town

31. Hamilton Town

32. Hamilton Village

33. Hannibal Town

34. Hannibal Village

35. Homer Village

36. Ira Town

37. Jordan Village

38. Lacona Village

39. LaFayette Town

40. Lebanon Town

41. Lenox Town

42. Lincoln Town

43. Liverpool Village

44. Manlius Village

45. Marcellus Town

46. Marcellus Village

47. Mentz Town

48. Mexico Village

49. Minetto Town

50. Minoa Village

51. Montezuma Town

52. Moravila Village

53. Morrisville Village

54. Nelson Town

55. Niles Town

56. Oneida City

57. Orwell Town

58. Oswego City

59. Oswego Town

60. Owasco Town

61. Parish Town

62. Parish Village

63. Phoenix Village

64. Pompey Town

65. Port Byron Village

66. Pulaski Village

67. Redfield Town

68. Richland Town

69. Salina Town

70. Sandy Creek Town

71. Sandy Creek Village

72. Scipio Town

73. Sennett Town

74. Skaneateles Town

75. Sterling Town

76. Syracuse City

77. Truxton Town

78. Tully Village

79. Union Springs Village

80. Victory Town

81. Volney Town

82. Weedsport Village

83. Williamstown Town

The CNY RPDB can assist your municipality in adoption of the streamlined solar permit. You can access the modifiable permit form below:

 

New York State Unified Solar Permit

 

For more information, please contact Amanda Mazzoni at amazzoni@cnyrpdb.org or (315) 422-8276 ext 1215.

 

For additional resources, visit our Resource Library.

Central New York Regional Planning & Development Board

126 North Salina Street, Suite 200, Syracuse, NY 13202

315-422-8276      mail@cnyrpdb.org

 

 

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