Minnesota Solar Toolkit for Local Governments Wins the “Innovation in Planning Award”

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Post date: September 5, 2017
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The Minnesota Chapter of the American Planning Association recently announced that the Grow Solar “Minnesota Local Government Solar Toolkit” is the recipient of their 2017 Innovation in Planning Award.

My colleague Abby Finis and I were the primary authors of the toolkit, which is part of our work through the Grow Solar Partnership. The Partnership is led by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and funded by the US DOE SunShot Initiative. The Clean Energy Resource Teams were also a valuable partner in the project.

Why are solar toolkits needed and how can they help local governments in Minnesota and elsewhere? This blog provides background on the resources provided by local government solar toolkits and the questions they can help answer.

While development cycles come and go, the types of development that planners must address in plans, regulations, and permit processes tend to evolve only slowly over time. Occasionally, however, something new comes along that doesn’t fit into the land use tables and regulatory best practices.

Minnesota, and much of the nation, is seeing a rapid acceleration of interest in solar energy resources and resulting solar energy development. Planners now face questions about:

  • What is a “solar resource” and what is not?
  • Is all solar development the same land use, or are there different types of solar development?
  • What are the potential nuisances associated with solar development?
  • What are the economic benefits of this development? And what are communities enabled to do to regulate, plan for, or encourage solar development?

The Great Plains Institute, as part of the multi-state Grow Solar Partnership, developed a solar toolkit for local governments in Minnesota to guide planners and local officials through these questions. Using the Minnesota toolkit as a template, GPI also developed toolkits tailored to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. All of the toolkits are available online for any local government to use. The Grow Solar Partnership is led by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association and funded by the US DOE SunShot Initiative.

The Partnership works in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa, to enable appropriate solar development by decreasing implementation costs, building workforce capacity, and improving rules and policies for solar market growth.

 

Local permitting, planning and zoning practices guide where and how solar energy resources can be developed, but most plans and regulations were not written with solar development in mind.

Recognizing this, the Grow Solar Partnership developed a consistent set of best practices for planning, zoning, and permitting for the upper Midwest that reflects both national best practices and the statutory and market environments within each of the four states. The resulting toolkits provide a unique and timely resource to local governments.

Each toolkit includes a summary of solar policy in the state, a guide to incorporating solar into a comprehensive plan consistent with state law, model ordinances that demonstrate how to address different solar energy land uses in zoning codes, and a model local government permitting checklist for communities that enforce the building code.

The toolkits have proven to be a valuable resource for local governments in all four states during a time when solar development is rapidly accelerating across the Midwest.

 

Access the award-winning Minnesota Local Government Solar Toolkit here.