Solar Farms: Shining a Light on Zoning Requirements

Miles & Stockbridge P.C.

With anticipation and wonder many of us stood still for several moments on August 21, 2017 hoping to catch at least a glimpse of the much anticipated total eclipse of the sun. Whether you were fortunate to be in the area of “totality” or anywhere else in the contiguous United States, you could witness at least a portion of the full solar eclipse (with proper eye protection of course).

A total eclipse of the sun is a rare occurrence, especially one which is visible across the entire continental United States. In fact, a similar eclipse had not occurred since 1918. The energy of the sun; however, is a powerful energy source which can be seen, felt, enjoyed and “harvested” every day. Yes, harvested. Solar energy has expanded into a new form of agri-business, sometimes referred to as “solar farms”.

Vast acres of farm fields can provide the necessary open space, southern exposure and sun light to capture a substantial amount of solar energy. It’s what makes the crops grow. And that same solar energy can be “harvested” as a marketable commodity, like any other farm crop that may be grown in the field.  Farmers need to be careful; however, to be sure they are complying with any existing local zoning regulations before establishing a solar farm on their agricultural property.

Some jurisdictions have established provisions within their local zoning ordinances to govern and regulate solar farms on agricultural property. Those regulations may be different from regulations governing solar energy facilities located on other types of properties, such as commercial and industrial zoned properties. Local zoning regulations may govern issues such as the minimum and/or maximum acreage of a solar farm, the percentage or portion of the agricultural property that may be developed as a solar farm, the location of the solar farm on the property in relation to roads and other types of neighboring zoning and land uses, access, set-backs, and other regulations and restrictions on the development and operation of a solar farm.

Solar energy is a clean, renewable and sustainable source of energy that many jurisdictions encourage and seek to expand. While encouraging alternate energy sources; however, governments are also careful to regulate the development of energy facilities.

So before establishing a solar farm on an agricultural zoned property, the property owner would be wise to check with his or her local government and seek the assistance of a real estate and land use attorney to confirm whether there are any zoning regulations restricting the development of the property for a solar farm.

Opinions and conclusions in this post are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation. Accessing this blog and reading its content does not create an attorney-client relationship with the author or with Miles & Stockbridge. Any federal tax advice provided in this communication is not intended or written by the author to be used, and cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding penalties which may be imposed on the recipient by the IRS. Please contact the author if you would like to receive written advice in a format which complies with IRS rules and may be relied upon to avoid penalties.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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