Planning and Zoning for Solar Energy Systems Webinar
May 23, 2022
Hi, welcome, and thank you for joining the May 2022 Planning and Zoning for Solar Energy Systems webinar. My name is Brad Neumann. I'm a senior Extension educator with Michigan State University. Today's training is based on the newly released planning and zoning for solar energy systems guide for local Michigan governments, and that resource is available online at extension.msu.edu/solarzoning, and we'll have that link in the chat momentarily. This training is also part of the Michigan Renewable Energy Academy. The Michigan Renewable Energy Academy of 2022 is a broad educational push on planning and zoning for renewable energy systems brought to Michigan communities by MSU Extension, the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute, the Michigan Association of Planning, and critically important, a sponsorship by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, so thanks to all of our program partners. MSU extension and our programming is open to all. We strive to accommodate everyone in our programs, regardless of protected class. Please contact one of our staff if you believe we can improve our accommodations for you. As I said, my name is Brad Neumann. I'm with MSU. I'm joined tonight by my extension colleague, Mary Reilly, and also a close collaborator and partner, Dr. Sarah Mills of the University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute. You'll be hearing from Mary and Sarah in just a little bit this evening. I wanna acknowledge other presenters in this series, and other authors of the Planning and Zoning for Solar guidebook. Wayne Beyea is with our School of Planning, Design, and Construction. Harmony Gmazel is an extension educator with a land use focus. She's based out of Washtenaw County, and Charles Gould in Ottawa County. He is an agriculture educator with a focus on bioenergy, but a specialist in solar systems and pollinator habitat. So thanks to the rest of the team here. As I mentioned, this training is based on the new Planning and Zoning for Solar guide, and the purpose of that guide is to help Michigan communities meet the challenge of becoming solar ready by effectively addressing solar energy systems within their planning policies and their zoning regulations, and in the guide, and today in our program, we're gonna illustrate various scales and configurations of photovoltaic solar systems that can fit into different landscape patterns, ranging from rural to suburban to urban. The guide also includes sample zoning language for solar energy systems, which we'll highlight in a significant way in today's program. I wanna also acknowledge additional guidebook authors, Hannah Smith, Jason Derry, and Emma Gilbert, who have contributed to this guide in an important way. They were students at the time. They've all graduated and are on to great things. In addition to the author team that I've noted, we had 20 outside reviewers from industry, academia, and municipal attorneys that all contributed to the guidebook and the sample zoning, and we wanna thank those contributions. Here's our run of show. We'll cover background on solar energy development and scale and configuration before moving into planning and land use considerations for solar. After a short break, we'll spend about half an hour on the sample zoning for solar, and we'll finish things out with mention of other resources for solar energy planning and zoning in Michigan. Now, importantly, we know that some folks that registered for the webinar did so as a group, others might be sitting in a group right now but did not actually register everyone who's there, so I do wanna just take a minute and ask that if you are watching this webinar tonight in a group setting, if you could please enter into the chat the number of individuals with you in your room, that's gonna be important for relaying information back to our program sponsor. Thanks for doing that. So I'll talk a little bit about background, and this is sort of a rhetorical question. Chances are very good that landowners in your community have already been approached about renewable energy leases in your community, and that is likely for both wind and solar. A little bit of a background, many people wonder how Michigan compares to other states in terms of our solar resource. Well, over the course of the year, a solar panel in Michigan produces approximately 70% of the energy as the same panel would in Phoenix, Arizona, so not too bad, actually. Photovoltaic systems are generally most efficient or require a solar radiation of 3.5 kilowatt hours per square meter per day, and so on this graph that starts at about the darker green that we see. We see some of that in the Pacific Northwest, and so you can see that Michigan is a little higher in terms of the photovoltaic resource here, with a brighter green, closer to that four mark on the scale. So when sited properly, Michigan's solar resource is more than sufficient for producing adequate electricity. Combine our more than adequate solar resource with declining costs of developing large and small solar, and it's evident why we're seeing more landowner leases and more solar development. What this graph shows is a 90% decrease in the cost of utility scale solar from 2009 to 2020. Of course, this decrease in cost to deploy solar has made it much more feasible for both large scale and small onsite installations. Since Michigan's first renewable portfolio standard in 2008, utilities have been planning and building more and more renewable generation, and this trend has only accelerated in recent years. Consumers Energy, in their 2021 Clean Energy Plan, puts forth a path that retires coal, and the loss of those energy generating sources will be substituted with energy efficiencies, and of course, investments in renewable energy, primarily solar and wind, as this graph shows above. The renewable generation is depicted in yellow. DTE also has plans to substantially decrease carbon emissions through renewables and efficiencies. Wanna also mention distributed generation. This is the former legacy net metering, and it's also grown significantly over the past three or four years, at the same time that solar costs have been decreasing. We've seen, from one year to the next, an annual increase of 37% in the number of distributed generation installations, and the vast majority of these customers are rooftop solar or more onsite solar systems. The distributed generation program does limit customer's annual generation to what they have consumed over the course of a year. This is a program that allows customers to reduce electricity purchases by using their generated electricity essentially behind the meter. And there is a Michigan law that does set caps on participation in each of the utilities distributed generation programs. Some of the utilities are getting close to their caps, and others still have a little ways to go, but this should just give you a bit of a background about how solar is really ramping up across Michigan and of course the nation. I wanna just share a couple of important points on scale and configuration of solar energy systems in the program today. There's more detail on this topic in our guidebook. So first we wanna use the rural to urban transect from a planning firm called Duany Plater-Zyberk, as a tool to help demonstrate that solar can really be scaled and configured in appropriate ways across all zones of human use and habitation. On the left, there are natural landscapes in the graphic depicted. We see sort of a plan view, an elevation view, and then a sample image across the top of the image, and as we move from left to right through rural landscapes, suburban landscapes, and then ultimately into the urban area, we can see how the pattern of development changes, but solar is remarkably versatile as far as a technology, and so it makes planning and zoning for solar particularly interesting. This technology can power a light or a remote communication device in a natural setting. It of course can be installed on a roof, at an isolated rural location, or integrated with a carport in parking structures or at of course a utility scale of hundreds or thousands of acres. Ultimately, the compatibility of solar at a given site really just depends on its scale relative to that pattern or density of development with the surrounding landscape. The other point we wanna make is that while the scalability of solar is interesting, there's another way to think about things, and that's through a dual use context or lens. Solar can coexist or be co-located in, for instance, in agricultural contexts, and there are several dual use means of implementing this approach with agricultural. We'll hear about those a little bit later. Solar can be co-located in an accessory use or approach, over a parking lot, a roof, at a school, a business or a residence. These are accessory applications, where there's a separate primary use of the land, and it could be of beneficial use at an otherwise unproductive brownfield site, or an enhancement at a community garden or a park. So if you're thinking as a planner, as I'm sure most of you are who've joined us tonight, you've got the master plan and the zoning ordinance in mind. Solar, as you can tell, can potentially be added to the majority if not all of the land uses or zoning districts in the jurisdiction, of course, with different applications or recommendations based on the scale of the development pattern where it's being located. So you'll see us explain this a bit more in subsequent sections of the program. So with that, I would like to hand things over to Dr. Sarah Mills. - Great, and I think that I, Brad, if you can keep screen sharing, or Mary can, that's not an option for me right now. Great. Thanks, Mary. I get the pleasure of jumping in and talking about that planning. So if we were in person, we'd have you raise your hands, and the raise hand button is here, but it looks like the chat is such that you can chat out to everyone if your community has included renewable energy in its master plan. You can go ahead and chat that out and name drop where you're from. Next slide, please. So all indications are that renewable energy, and particularly solar energy, are going to be deployed on a much broader scale within the next 20 years. As Brad mentioned, as planners in particular, as many of you on this call are, you know that it's really difficult when a community is presented with a development proposal and there is no zoning in place, let alone a plan. Planning before a proposal is on the table helps you reduce some of the conflicts of interest that you might see. It just gives you time for analysis, more of an opportunity to strategize, and plenty of time for community engagement. I'll say it now, and I'll come back to say it later, that if you have not been approached yet, it is very likely that in the next five years you will be approached about some sort of renewable energy, very likely solar, certainly at the personal use scale, but also at the utility scale, so the time to plan is now. If you haven't planned or zoned for renewables yet, I am seeing that there are a couple places that have, but if you have not, you are not alone. And again, as Brad mentioned, you need to be careful about jumping directly into zoning, because zoning needs to be based on a plan. If your plan doesn't include energy, that is totally reasonable. For decades, this wasn't on most community's radar screens, and it wasn't really a necessity that so many communities were viable options for energy development, but with the declining costs of renewables, all plans should now include a renewable energy component, and actually in just a slide, I'm gonna also show you why, particularly if you're a rural community, you should be planning for renewables. Again, just to make you feel like you're not alone, based on a review that we did in 2021 of zoning ordinances, only about 30% of communities have zoning ordinances that address solar. There's slightly more for kind of small scale rooftop type solar than for larger scale projects, but there there's still a gap to fill. More communities have wind zoning in place, but I would say many of those need to be updated because technology has changed, and we can have that discussion too later on if you want. Again, based on our quick scouring of the state, looking for plans that have clear goals that include renewables, we didn't find many, and we're totally gonna steal from this chat so that we can update our slides in the future, but again, since zoning should be based on a plan, it's time to start planning now. In terms of why this is something that is particularly relevant in rural communities, but to be clear tonight, we're gonna be talking about all scales of solar. The particular reason is that the footprint of energy production, particularly for those large projects, is changing, so Brad mentioned the plans to close coal fire power plants, and the reality is you can't put the same amount of wind or solar energy in that same footprint. The footprint of solar and wind require lots more acres, unless you're only talking about solar on rooftops. And while wind projects tend to span across many more acres in terms of the actual footprint of the wind project, it's significantly less than solar, so solar in particular is something that you wanna think about in terms of how it fits into your land use plans. Okay, so if I haven't convinced you that you should be planning, what does that mean, practically speaking? So tonight we're gonna talk about two key steps. I'm gonna talk about the first, which is to conduct resource analysis to determine suitability in your community of solar. I'm gonna talk about wind too, but just quickly. And then the second step that you would want to do in planning is to determine how renewable energy fits with your goals, whether those goals are energy specific, or thinking about synergies and conflicts with common goals that you probably already have in your master plans. If you wanna get an overall snapshot of the renewable energy potential in your area, the National Renewable Energy Lab, that's NREL is its acronym, has a relatively new tool called SLOPE, and that provides a bunch of information about current energy usage, both electricity and natural gas, and projected energy usage in the future, but for our purposes and planning purposes, it also includes resource potential. So here you can see I've pulled the data for St. Clair County, where there's lots of utility scale solar potential. That's here in yellow, but there's also some significant potential for distributed or kind of accessory use wind. The dark blue bar in the middle is land based wind. And then there's also some commercial PV and residential PV potential, and that's just assuming based on existing rooftops, so those last two bars there are really just thinking about existing rooftops. One of the limitations of this tool is that you can't get township level data. It only gives you data in the aggregate at the county level, but even so, it really helps to kind of put in context within your space what the biggest opportunities are. How the slope tool arrived at those numbers is actually overlaying a bunch of spatial information, so a bunch of different maps. Some physical characteristics support wind or solar development, and others make that development more difficult. On the small scale side, so looking at that first left column, the real key considerations are wind or solar availability and a combination of how much energy is actually used on that property, and what the utility rules are for selling that power back to the grid. Brad mentioned that's a little bit different from utility to utility across the state, and since these utility specific rules aren't included in the SLOPE maps, and it's something that's really debated in Lansing, it's probably not something that you really want to hinge your long term plans on, your master plan on. For large scale solar and wind, there's a lot more criteria that go into determining suitability for both higher resource potential, so where it's sunnier, where there's higher wind speeds. Those things make a site attractive, and proximity to an existing substation on a transmission line also makes a site more attractive. Large wind projects need proximity to major roads for the heavy equipment and parts that are brought in. On the other hand, both large wind and solar are constrained by things like wetlands, sensitive habitats, lands that are enrolled in conservation easements. Solar farms specifically are less viable where there's lots of wooded vegetation or steep slopes. And oftentimes, Mary, if you click one more time, maybe. It's animated. There you go. Population density factors in as a constraint in this model, because population density is really used as a proxy for land availability, so lower population densities, you would just expect that there's more land that's available for these large projects. In these next couple of slides, I just wanna dig a little bit more into a couple of considerations. The first one is the grid. So, principle use, large scale wind and solar need to hook into the transmission grid. The closer a substation is, the better, but I've heard from lots of folks that developers try not to be farther than three miles or so from a substation. Now, for smaller utility scale projects, like a 20 acre solar array, these can be connected to the, not to the transmission grid, but to the distribution lines, just like onsite projects are. Getting back though to a minute to the transmission grid and those large projects, last fall, ITC, that's the company that owns and operates the transmission grid in much of the lower peninsula, presented the results of a new analysis that they did at the request of the Michigan Public Service Commission. It does a couple of things, but it first quantifies which of their transmission lines have the most capacity to handle new generation sources, so wind or solar, and it also estimates the upgrade costs for significant additions of renewables. Typically, wind and solar developers have to pay the grid operator to get those cost estimates, and they still do have to pay for the real cost estimates, but this gives those developer folks a better idea of where within our grid it's already possible to host where additional renewables can be added for minimal upgrade costs. I've linked here to the actual study where you can see all of the regions of the lower peninsula, but my biggest takeaway is that this south region, which you might see running from South Haven all the way over to very southern Monroe County, plus the region that's just kind of in the cutout on the Northeast of this, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Monroe counties, have the most capacity and would require the fewest upgrades, so my message to you tonight, as I said before, if you haven't been approached, you may well, and it's because of this study, so if you are anywhere in this territory, prepare now. Beyond the grid, another consideration is land availability. So there are economies of scale for renewable energy, and developers are often on the hunt for places with large tracts of land, or where they can assemble large tracts of land. Again, for wind, you need many thousands or tens of thousands of acres. The average solar project under development these days requires close to a thousand acres. It's possible, again, to have small utility scaled solar projects, and these might be a great way to utilize brownfields or for parking lots, and that's something that we've talked about and will continue to talk about, but because these types of sites often come with other challenges and because they're just not as big, in order to really see more solar development at this scale requires other supportive policies. And again, just a quick primer in terms of how much land is typically needed for utility scale solar, a megawatt requires roughly five to eight acres, could be as little as three, could be 10. Most of the projects that are kind of in the works right now in Michigan are in the 150 megawatt range, so that's 800 to 1500 acres. In terms of practical tools to help you analyze what opportunities or constraints there might be to renewable energy development in your community, or why you've got developers at your door, my favorite tool to use is the energy zones mapping tool, EZMT. This is put together by the Argonne National Lab, which is another Department of Energy lab. It's got hundreds of data layers, many of which you can download to your own computer if you have GIS, but you can also use their web based GIS platform to create your own maps. These layer files include solar resource potential, the location of substations and transmission lines, airports, fish and wildlife service, sensitive habitats, pretty much anything that you can imagine. It also has pre-run models for utility scale solar and wind that take into the same characteristics that was on that table a couple slides ago, and gives you heat maps of where within your community you're likely to have the most viable sites for large scale renewables. There's a recording of a webinar that we did this time last year, where we had the developer of this tool kind of give a demo, and how it might be used by planners, so if you can't find the link at the end of the presentation, I'm happy to share that with you, and kind of the short URL is up here. And I'll turn it over to Mary. Thanks. - All right, thanks Sarah. So we just covered the kind of important spatial analysis of planning for renewables, which helped a community determine the most likely siting locations for various scales of renewable energy, but another important analysis for communities to perform is that analysis of the vision, and the goals of the community. And of course, all communities will have broad statement or statements that indicate important community principles that lead to a desired future state. We're all familiar with kind of that element of planning, so it's entirely possible that a community vision might be incompatible with certain scale or scales of renewable energy. It's possible, so we see on the screen a graphic depiction, a visual, of the vision of Pittsfield Township, and it envisions a certain development intensity, and we see those, these more intense nodes and corridors there in red, and so you could see where their vision for development and certain kind of intensity might conflict, say, with a large scale utility solar development, but it might be very appropriate for other smaller or onsite scale solar, like rooftop solar, for example. So these potential areas of conflict, and we'll see others in just a few minutes, might be discussed by community planners and the public. We're encouraging that to be a public conversation. Understanding the potential areas of conflict is another way to inform what scale of renewable energy generation, or solar in this case, we're talking about solar, where would it be suitable and at what scale? So we could articulate these preferences for scale and location through the Future Land Use Map and the zoning plan. So in regards to the Future Land Use Map, reviewing the map for projected areas of growth, where infrastructure and extension, the type of growth or change in land use, or areas of preservation, that's an important part of this process, and thinking about that, along with goals and objectives, to preserve or maintain unique community assets, like farm viability, or natural features, or historic preservation, and this review of the Future Land Use Map would really help to inform where, it's that where part, of where is renewable energy suitable? And we've mentioned this term, the zoning plan, a few times. If that's new to some of you, the zoning plan is a required element within the master plan, and the zoning plan kind of lays the groundwork for how the zoning ordinance might be amended in the future, and in particular, the zoning plan element would be really instrumental in describing the preferred scale and location within each land use classification on the Future Land Use Map. That's where that kind of specificity would be really well suited, is in that zoning plan. So while not required as a precursor to a zoning amendment, a statement in the zoning plan affirming the preferred scope and-or location of a solar energy system relative to other land use classifications could be sufficient to show that the community anticipated a solar zoning amendment, and they reasoned through that amendment, and the amendment itself was based on the findings and analysis done in the master plan. So that graphic there shows, the goal is to kind of link it all, to link it all together, from the master plan to the zoning ordinance. There could be sub area plans as well. In some communities, let's say they envision, again, we'll just talk about large scale solar for example, maybe there's a sense that large scale utility solar doesn't fit in every part of the agricultural zone, but maybe it fits really well in certain locations, and so a sub area plan, with an overlay map or overlay zoning down the road might be the direction that that community wants to go. Another approach could be a sustainability element of a master plan that defines the scale and location of renewable energy within the community. Lots of different options. So we picked a few county plans to highlight, and as we mentioned earlier, we kind of had a tough time finding specific communities that had planned for renewable energy, so the first one is Gratiot County, and in Gratiot they took a look at the future land use classifications for agriculture, and they're very specific about, the county contemplates the development of commercial solar as appropriate for agricultural areas. And they also, in their goal statements, they indicate they wanna apply and uphold ag preservation zoning by limiting non-farm uses in ag districts, continue to pursue alternative energy companies, market the county as an alternative energy industry hub, and attract solar development. Now, other communities might have an entirely different direction with their agricultural district, and that's okay. Perhaps there's a focus on agritourism, or sustainable agriculture, or agribusiness, or agricultural processing, and so forth, so we're not highlighting it up as a you should do this, but we're highlighting it as a community that hasn't been intentional about thinking about renewable energy. So in Huron County, they conducted a survey asking about preferences for various forms of renewable energy, and so we're highlighting here the results for solar and wind and methane. They asked about other renewables as well, but the goal was to try to understand the community preferences for different types of renewable energy. Solar and geothermal were the most popular, and wind and methane gas capture were the least popular. So it's interesting they asked the questions, right? And when asked what agricultural land should be allowed to be used for, 95% of the respondents said agricultural uses, but only 38% said alternative energy uses, so because they have such a history with renewable energy and particularly wind energy, they were really very clear and direct in their planning process about the questions that they asked about renewable energy. So there is support for development of solar in Huron County, but they only want it sited in appropriate areas. And in fact, the plan currently states it is the goal of Huron County to ensure that lands already enrolled in the PA 116 program remain in the program while directing the development of commercial solar energy facilities to marginal lands. So you should be getting a sense that communities not only need to identify goals that may compete with different types of renewable energy generation, but communities also need to have a discussion about the scale of renewable energy as it relates to the master plan, vision, goals, and objectives. So this table provides a hypothetical, let me say that again, this table is hypothetical (laughs). It's a hypothetical analysis of typical community goals, to preserve farmland and farm viability, and tourism development, for example, and it also references certain scales of solar energy, so accessory in the first column, that would be the very small scale system, a small principle use, that would be up to two megawatts, or a large principle, over two megawatts, and you can see Y is yes, N is no, in terms of is it compatible or not? So an urban or a suburban community is likely to have a goal of focusing development to certain districts, to create walkable and mixed use neighborhoods, but there's likely only one type of scale of renewable energy generation that's compatible with that goal, and that would be that small scale or accessory solar. Now, let's consider the conventional goal of farmland preservation. Generally speaking, it seems that all scales of the renewables would support farmland preservation, except large scale solar. But what if the community, the goal, was more of farm viability? Wouldn't all types of solar or renewables be compatible with that goal? I wanna clarify in this context that farm preservation, we're talking about putting land and conservation easements or other mechanisms to preserve that farm activity indefinitely, and when we're talking about farm viability, it's about allowing other land uses, like renewable energy, or other farm practices, like processing or agritourism, that give those farms economic viability. So another one to compare or contrast would be natural resource protection versus natural feature protection, so you can see how we define the community goal. We might be making for an internal policy conflict in the plan. Again, carefully considering the goals against the scale and the location of solar energy systems is key. Again, did I mention this was hypothetical (laughs)? Okay, moving on. So let's stick with the community goal of farmland preservation using a conventional definition of land in commercial agricultural production. So farmland loss is nothing new. We have been sprawling into the hinterlands around cities with subdivisions and commercial strips for decades. This image is an old projection from the Michigan Land Resource Project from the late 1990s, and we can see that we've been losing farmland. The red is the built environment, yellow is agriculture, and you can see how that built environment has grown and has continued to grow. So since the year 2000, we've lost approximately 700,000 acres of farmland, which is equivalent to two standard square counties, like Isabella County. The average size of a farm is getting smaller, and there's a lot of factors contributing to this. There's suburbanization, golf courses, industrial developments in farmland, and so it's interesting that solar has been, now we're starting to have a conversation about farmland loss in relation to solar in particular, and so we just wanna bring up the point that we're not here to condone the loss of farmland by any means, but we wanna look at how solar contributes in its own way, but how we as a society, our zoning ordinances for example, that allow golf courses and airports and suburbs and houses and all kinds of things in agriculture also contribute to that farmland loss. So the bottom line with the concern of farmland loss is that it's a little bit over-simplistic and somewhat problematic to conclude that solar energy development should be directed completely away from farmland, so really what we need to do is drill down and ask some probing questions, like is the ultimate goal to limit urban or suburban growth in rural areas? Do we really want to prevent the loss of valuable top soil and limit soil compaction? Is that the goal? Is the goal to maintain farm livelihoods, or a way of life? Next, we think it's very important for a community to do a gut check and ask itself just how far it's willing to go to achieve those more specific goals for all types of competing land uses. Are other types of development, like residential, prohibited in ag zones? All too often, it is the case that local ordinances do not have the necessary adopted tools to implement the ag protection goals stated in the master plan, like exclusive agricultural zoning, or sliding scale zoning, or an active purchase of development rights program. So if there's concern about solar being inconsistent with farmland, do you have that internal consistency in your plan and ordinance to also direct golf courses, race tracks, subdivisions, and other competing land uses away from your production agricultural areas? If not, why would you treat solar differently, and why now? So the point is, if we wanna protect farmland, we need to hold all forms of development, residential, and solar energy development, to the same or to similar standards. Otherwise we're sort of creating a double standard. Something to think about. So I'm not sure where we are on time. - We're doing fine on time, Mary. - We're doing fine on time, okay. So we have this activity that we just, because we're in a webinar it's a little bit different, but we would invite you to spend a minute or two prioritizing how you would spend a dollar. How would you spend a buck on these different activities? So if you had a hundred pennies and these were all little pods, maybe you'd put 25 cents into engaging with farmers and rural land owners to hear interests, or that kind of thing. So we just want you to take a moment to kind of prioritize what you've learned so far and what you think might be that first step to do, so we'll just ask you to do that on your own. And then I think shortly, we're gonna take a five minute break, just to give you a chance to get up and move around, and we'll be back shortly. So I'm gonna put the five minute timer up shortly here. Uh-oh, I'm gonna stop share, so go ahead and start your break, and I will start the timer. - All right, welcome back. We're gonna move into part D of today's program, and begin a conversation about the sample zoning that is provided in the guidebook resource, and we're doing just fine on time, so we'll have the ability to address questions at the end. Plus Mary and Sarah can certainly address things as they come in in the chat if they wish as well. So let's talk about some of our sample zoning. First, I wanna just spend a little time building from that rural to urban transect application, and show here a visual depiction of different solar energy systems integrated with landscapes and buildings from natural to urban. And so to review, across the top row, we see a range of landscapes from natural to urban on the right, and down the left hand side, we see the main functional categories or configurations of solar that we describe in the guidebook. We've got accessory roof mounted systems, accessory ground mounted systems, small principle use, and large principle use. Again, we see accessory systems being scaled and configured in different ways to fit within the landscape or built environment across a whole variety of transect zones, so you see those not only in the natural zone where we see a national park application, but right to the other end of the spectrum, with general urban. For small principle use, the scale or acreage of a small principle system should be determined by the community. So what is the threshold or size of a system or the acreage of a project that might categorize a system as small, and we'll share what we've done in our sample zoning in just a moment. And you can see that those small systems, maybe those integrate into landscapes in ways a little bit differently than those large systems. They might fit more in a suburban or rural environment. They might even be integrated into open space in a more urban environment, like we see in the image with Western Michigan University's Business Technology and Research Park, the principal use system under the urban and general urban. And then on the large end of the spectrum, we see those utility scale projects. Again, what defines these? This is gonna be based on a threshold in your ordinance. Is it a project that is a certain number of megawatts in size? Is it an acreage of 20 or 40 or larger acres? Again, sort of that threshold depends on the nature of your community. Just, are you a very rural community, or are you a more suburban community? Maybe that is a lens through which you would define those demarcations a little bit differently. So again, you can see the different applications here across the transect. Now, taking this a little bit further, we just saw those examples across the transect, here in this table, we are now translating those transect zones to maybe more typical zoning districts across the top, so you can see sort of a resource production or agricultural zoning district, low density residential, commercial or office, right up to say a mixed use type of a zoning district. And so on the left hand side, again, you see those configurations, as we've defined, roof mounted, accessory ground mounted, large and small principle use, and this table is showing, say, how these types of solar might be permitted or authorized based on zoning in each of the respective districts. So across the first row, roof mounted systems, you can see that these are proposed in our sample zoning to be treated as a permitted use, in other words a use by right, in all districts in the community. That's a sort of green light to installation. You've gotta meet the standards in the ordinance. You'll take a visit to the zoning office, show 'em your plans, you'll get a zoning permit, and there won't be a dedicated special approval. Similarly, with accessory ground mounted systems, the point is using that electricity on site, and those systems similarly could be permitted or fast tracked through the permitted use approach. So where there is perhaps some concern about compatibility with existing land uses, a special land use permit issued after planning commission review does provide the most protection, if you will, relative to existing or adjacent land uses, but is that necessary for both large and small principle use systems? As you see here, perhaps a smaller principle use system could be integrated into an existing landscape without too much concern, and they could be handled a little more straightforward. What we have here is SPR, denoting site plan review, and the idea is that this would require more detail in the application that's submitted for this type of solar energy system, but it would still be a review by the zoning administrator, a ministerial review that would be done by staff, so long as the project satisfies the standards in the ordinance. Those would be largely non-discretionary standards. Large systems, you'll see we have noted special land use, and in some cases there's an X where perhaps that would not be permitted, and so this approach would be the full-fledged special land use public hearing by the planning commission in some communities. That's followed by a second public meeting by the legislative body, and so you can see, depending on the zoning district, this might be appropriate as a special land use, or perhaps it's not appropriate at all. As Mary was pointing out, medium density residential or mixed use, probably that would be incompatible as far as our goals of creating those higher density walkable districts. This is, again, a hypothetical table, but it helps to understand how the transect can then be applied to zoning districts that you might have as an individual community. So with that, let's get into the sample zoning, and we're gonna first talk about roof mounted accessory systems. We're encouraging communities to add to their general provisions chapter or article the authority or right to property owners in any district to install these accessory use roof mounted systems. Again, if a structure is permitted in the district, there should be the allowance for a roof mounted system, as the sample zoning suggests. These are accessory uses. They offer additional benefits to the accompanying principle use. That's another way to think about accessory uses. They contribute to that principle use. Little more detail, for roof mounted systems, you could treat these generally similar to other rooftop mechanical equipment. Perhaps your ordinance has a list of exceptions to height, like provided for antennas or spires or cupolas, such as those you see on the picture of the hotel here on the slide. Alternatively, the ordinance could add an additional height maximum, such as five to 10 feet, as an example that we're providing above the finished roof line, and this would allow for panels not just to sit flat, but to perhaps be angled in order to take the optimum benefit from the solar orientation. And importantly, we're also suggesting that a rooftop system not be considered an expansion of a nonconformity. Now I just wanna talk briefly about ground mounted systems, still handed as an accessory use permitted in all districts. In the sample zoning that we provide, we have an example height maximum of 20 feet, and this would apply regardless of whether the system is fixed, such as the system we see here in the screen, or if it's a tracking system that tilts or rotates to follow the sun. Alternatively, another way to take this approach would be to follow the maximum height allowed for other accessory structures in the particular zoning district, where the project would be sited. As far as setback, because these structures are not solid right down to the ground, like say a garden shed, it might be appropriate to relax the setback for an accessory structure like this in the district, while retaining some sort of a backstop. Perhaps that's a five foot backstop to the setback. Other sample standards for ground mounted systems include lot coverage and visibility. Given current efficiency of panels and average household energy use, it could be appropriate to include a maximum lot coverage of say 50% of the square footage of the primary structure. Again, this is in keeping with the idea that this is an accessory activity that should be beneficial to the primary use. If the primary use, say, is residential, this kind of standard would prohibit a property donor from establishing an otherwise large solar array on an otherwise residential location. We would suggest that a solar energy system not count towards the max number of accessory structures or the maximum square footage of accessory structures on site. Also, avoid using this as a calculation for max impervious surface on the particular lot. For visibility, the sample standard that we provide is to require systems to be located in rear or side yards, but an allowance that would enable them to be located in other locations if there is significant loss of efficiency or impact to utilities or the like. To work us through the rest of the sample standards, I'm gonna turn things over to Sarah. - Very good. Is it sharing the right screen? And you can hear me? - [Mary] Yes. - Super. Thanks. Technology's working now. All right, so I am going to talk about principle use systems, specifically small systems, and the reason that I'm gonna start and then Mary's gonna finish is that in our guide and sample, we differentiate between small and large principle use systems. The reason that we differentiate is that small principle use systems, we have standards. We assume that you may suggest that these are uses by right in some districts, or subject just to site plan review, and special land uses in other districts. The idea is that a small principle use solar energy system can be relatively easily sited on a parcel, or a couple of parcels, totaling, in the sample we suggest five to 20 acres, depending on your landscape and the arrangement of your system, but this is very much fill in the blank for you to decide where that line ought to be. Again, small principle use systems are those where you think it can be readily integrated into the existing land use pattern, from an urban brownfield to an undeveloped tract of land in a suburban environment, and in those different places, based on kind of the underlying topology that you have and kind of size of parcels, you can determine what is small, and then alternately, what is large. Larger principle use SES's in the guide require larger parcels or more land assembly, and so we suggest that it's permitted differently. This is a special land use. And again, just to note, the guide really leaves it up to your community to determine where the right line should be. So to allow a principal use SES in any district, we're adding some basic standards to the general provisions that would apply to all standards, or to all districts, sorry. One is that height. We suggest that it's measured from the ground to the top of the system when it's oriented at its maximum tilt. We suggest that the setbacks follow those for primary buildings or structures for the district that the SES is sited. Even, again, because we're talking about this as the principal use of that particular parcel, there may not be another building or structure there, but being consistent and following through kind of what the height limit is and what the setback rules are in that particular district. If a ground mounted small SES spans more than one property, it shouldn't be subject to property line setbacks along that shared property line, but the guide suggests that it should apply, the road right of way setback should apply, even if it's effectively spanning across the street. And a small principle use SES might be secured, may be secured with perimeter fencing. The current National Electric Code standards call for a six foot fence with three lines of barbed wire, or a seven foot fence with no barbed wire, and so you should know that the guide gives some different language. If your community wants to not allow barbed wire but still allow for compliance with the NEC, you need to make sure that that kind of maximum height, you need to allow for a fence that's at least seven feet tall, is the kind of shorter way of saying that, and all of that language is in the guide. Similar to fencing, with fencing comes screening, and depending on the style of fencing, the sample zoning is written to follow kind of the screening or landscaping standards for the district, so if fencing kind of substitutes for screening in your ordinance, then we could suggest following that on. Again, we have an exception. When adjoining a non participating property line with an existing residential or public use, we have some language in there to allow for additional discretion, to increase screening, so you can see on the screen right now, a fill in the blank standard that you can borrow from. We also have written into the sample that local officials can reduce or waive the screening requirements, so long as that adjustment is in keeping with the intent of the ordinance and is appropriately documented. The screening and landscaping for a small principal use SES should be detailed as part of the site plan that identifies the type and extent of the screening, and that can include, the things that could count for that, are plantings or strategic use of berms, maybe, or fencing. In addition to the previously mentioned standards for ground mounted systems, sample standards for the small SES include a ground cover requirement, simply for these smaller systems, simply requiring a perennial ground cover throughout the system. No additional standards. Mary'll cover kind of what we're suggesting or the kind of baseline for the larger systems. Because this small scale principle use solar system might be fit on a previously developed site, we provide an exception to the ground cover requirements, where you've got, for sites where the majority of it is currently impervious, so you can think of like an abandoned parking lot, or for sites that are part of a brownfield plan where you may not be able to kind of control what ground cover, you may not want kind of infiltration, these sites still need to comply with any onsite storm water management requirements though if you wouldn't be putting in the vegetative ground cover. Some people might note that there is, within the sample, no maximum lot coverage standard for principle use systems, whether small or large, and you might say that's a common provision in zoning ordinances. It is a common standard, and often those kind of provisions are intended to minimize impervious surface, or the overall footprint of a development. In situations where the solar array is co-located with another use, a parking lot or agriculture, then there already is, there may be little reason to limit that lot coverage. I would suggest, and the guidebook has some language on this, if your community feels like it needs to limit lot coverage, you should consider what the intent of the requirement is. What elements of the project should and should not count towards lot coverage, and make it really clear how lot coverage should be calculated. For systems that are principal use without some other dual use, or if it's co-located, again, with parking or with agriculture, what counts in terms of that lot coverage area? Another element included here is, within the sample ordinance, you'll see sound level maximums indicated for both small and large principle use systems. You might wonder what makes noise on a solar farm. If there's anything that makes noise, it's the inverters. The solar panels themselves aren't making noise. The guidebook suggests 45 decibels with the Leq measurement at one hour intervals, as the sound limit at the property line of an adjoining non participating lot. So if you see in this example, the site plan includes sound isolines that extend from the green numbers, and those green numbers are where the inverters are located. Each ISO line shows predicted sound levels, typically in this case in five decibel increments. Predicting the noise levels and mitigating through site design is more efficient and cost effective than mitigating an issue after it's complete, and during the site plan phase, applicants have more options to kind of reduce noise impacts, and again, the way you do this is that the inverters tend to be towards closer to the center of the project, or there's also ways to kind of cover or enclose the motors. And just so you know what we're talking about in terms of inverters, they can be a larger single piece of equipment, kind of like in a cabinet, or they can be smaller and integrated into each row of a solar array. Another emerging concept that we've included in the sample zoning is that of repowering, so that is reconfiguring a solar energy system to maintain or increase the power rating of the SES within the existing project footprint. The sample language suggests that for a small principle use solar energy system, the owner may at any time repair or replace components to maintain the system or repower the system by reconfiguring, renovating, or replacing the SES to increase the power rating, but all within the existing footprint. This definition and allowance for repowering isn't something that's in a bunch of ordinances right now, but what we're trying to encourage is planning for the future, and in just the next slide I'm gonna show you why. And just to be clear, if the the owner of this small solar energy system wants to change or expand the project footprint, the portion of the property within the fence expands, or kind of the location, that would be subject under this language to reapplication, but this allows for kind of replacing the panels, and the reason that we're encouraging kind of thinking ahead is when we, some of the first energy projects in the state were fixed single-sided panels that are here in the upper left, and when you see fixed panels, these are a rows of panels running east to west. More recently, developers are installing tracking systems that follow the path of the sun, and so usually those are oriented north-south, and then they rotate throughout the day, east to west. We're also now seeing bifacial panels, meaning that they absorb sunlight on both sides of the panel, and this is something that Mary referred to in the chat earlier. Even if the top's covered with snow, the bottom still has an opportunity, has an additional opportunity. Even when it's not snow, there's still some albedo from the plants underneath, and so you really can generate power from both sides. These systems are gonna be in place for 25 years or longer. We're gonna see technology advancements, and so it makes sense from a planning perspective to allow for a system to be repowered without the burdensome review process, so long as a developer can work this within their existing footprint. We effectively, again, I think if anything, this team that you see behind you is into the motto of consistency, and for manufacturing facilities, we don't require them reapplying if they're gonna change their assembly line, and so that's the idea behind this. And I think now I'll turn it back over to Mary. - All right. Thanks Sarah. So now we're gonna pivot to the large principle use systems. Generally, the way that the guidebook and the zoning is structured is that the large principle systems have to do everything that the small systems do, and more, so we're adding more layers for these large systems. So the systems larger than two megawatts, and by the way, we're using two megawatts as our example, but a community can absolutely set the designation of what constitutes large and small. And so, okay, let me (laughs), so the large principal use systems, these are not permitted uses. They are special land uses in our sample zoning, meaning that they are generally compatible with other uses within a zoning district, but they may not be appropriate in every location, so a more rigorous approval process is followed, including submission of a more detailed site plan. So let's run through some of those additional standards in the sample zoning that apply, such as dual use ground cover requirements. We're gonna spend quite a bit of time on that. So recall that for the small principle solar energy systems, the sample zoning says that a site shall include the installation of perennial ground cover, and this could be really any kind of vegetation that regenerates each year. That includes turf grass that could be mowed. Maybe these are on school grounds or something like that, or a park, where there's just grass, and that's okay. That's okay for the smaller systems. That's typically the most, that's most common for a lot of projects historically, and the image on the left there probably satisfies that requirement, some scrubby grasses and weeds, sometimes it actually looks more like a lawn, but most people would say they prefer the approach on the left as compared to gravel, or some other kind of treatment to completely minimize or eliminate vegetation, like the image on the right, but even the approach on the left with the grass is kind of lacking in that supporting pollinating insects or other agricultural ventures, such as forage or grazing, nor does the vegetation here have the root depth to secure the soil and assist with soil regeneration, and that is why we're introducing something different as far as ground cover for large principle solar energy systems, where the impacts could be larger, and so we're referring to this as dual use. In the sample zoning, we furthered a concept of dual use solar energy systems that requires an SES owner to employ one or more land management and conservation practices throughout the site, and we're calling those conservation cover, forage, agrovoltaics, and pollinator habitat, and we're doing this because there's some recognized beneficial uses for these kinds of dual uses, like pollinator habitat, carbon sequestration, creating wildlife habitat, ecosystem services, et cetera. So let's dive into a little bit more detail about these four different kinds that we refer to. So the first one is conservation cover, and in this case, solar sites are designed in consultation with a conservation organization, like the Natural Resource Conservation Service, or NRCS, with a focus on restoring native plants, grasses, and prairie, with the aim to protect specific species, such as a bird habitat, or providing specific ecosystem services like carbon sequestration, to help improve soil health, so there are various USDA and NRCS recommended conservation seed mixes that would satisfy this standard. Or another dual use would be forage for grazing, to incorporate rotational livestock as part of an overall vegetative maintenance plan, and this is already happening here in Michigan. This picture was taken in Cassopolis Michigan, in Southwest Michigan, where a utility company is using sheep to maintain their vegetation or keep the vegetation down, so there's a significant potential for growth of the sheep industry in particular as solar development continues, and with application of a ground cover standard like this. Keep in mind (laughs), if you have sheep, you wanna think about your fencing accordingly, to make sure those sheep stay in (laughs). And another option is what we're calling agrivoltaics, and these are solar sites that actually combine the raising of food for crops and generating electricity at the same time, and this is a very small scale example in a community garden near Traverse City, so it's not actually a large scale solar installation, but there's much potential for fruit and vegetable and floor culture production opportunities that could be integrated with solar, and there's a lot of research going on right now at MSU and other major institutions all around the country about how to best pair agriculture with solar. And then finally, there's the option to pair solar with pollinator habitat, and these are solar sites that are designed with a focus specifically on pollinator habitat, and the MSU Department of Entomology developed a mix of seeds, that when installed properly, helps to create this ongoing pollinator habitat with minimal maintenance, and they have developed a Michigan Pollinator Habitat Scorecard with a bunch of seed mixes, there's some variability there, but the goal is to get a certain number of points. It's 76 points. That's kind of the gold standard in terms of creating that pollinator habitat. And again, this is happening right now in Michigan today. There are solar installations that are supporting pollinator habitat. So one other consideration related to compatibility of solar in ag land is PA 116, and PA 116 is a state program where a farmer can enroll their property in PA 116, and then they get tax breaks. I can't go into the specifics of it exactly, but that's the idea. So in 2019, the state allowed for solar to be installed on PA 116 land, so long as specific conditions are met, including the existing field tile is maintained, there's a cover crop that's planted that includes pollinator habitat, and finally, that the developer has to post a surety bond or a letter of credit with the state to ensure that solar panels will be removed and the land returned to a condition in which it can be farmed at the end of the project life, and this allows farmers to take advantage of the economic opportunities presented by solar development while also preserving the long term viability of growing crops or raising livestock on that land. So the dual use scheme I just outlined was designed to be compatible with the current PA 116 policy and standards. After all, if the state's farmland preservation office is supportive of solar development on farmland, shouldn't local policy consider that satisfactory, perhaps? And minimally just try to work together, work in concert with that program. And keep in mind, there could be other state and federal programs or conservation easements providing tax benefits to retain the land in an undeveloped state, so that is also something to consider. So one more slide here on agriculture and solar. The guide contains a long commentary page on page 33 that explains that communities that are really serious about agricultural land protection might consider additional zoning provisions for solar on farmland, and that is if their current master plan speaks to the importance of farmland preservation, and if similar ag protections are in place for other non agricultural uses, such as residential. So the above list here, citing panels along field edges, there's several examples. Maintaining all drainage infrastructure on the site, making sure that the siting of the solar is not isolating farm areas or making it unfarmable, just by the sheer design of how the solar is laid out. So these are just some examples, so I encourage you to go to that page 33 of the guidebook and read that further. So Sarah touched a little bit on repowering, and I'm gonna touch on decommissioning. So the guidebook asks that a decommission plan be submitted at the time of application with the site plan that indicates the anticipated manner in which the project will be decommissioned, including a description of above grade and below grade improvements, and how those are gonna be removed or retained. Perhaps the access drive in the fencing might be retained on the property. We don't know. Generally, how is that property gonna be restored for viable use that's consistent with the zoning district? Remember that we talked about maybe it's a brownfield. Maybe it had impervious surface, and so we don't have a standard that says you have to return it to dirt. It's a standard that says it has to be consistent with that zoning district, understanding that if it was a farm field, it has to be retained to or put back to a position where that person could farm it. So the owner of the system can proceed with decommissioning plan approved by the zoning administrator or the planning commission, and remove the system indicated in the most recent approved plan, or they could maybe amend the decommissioning plan, and then get that similar approval going forward. There's a work going on in the recycling of solar panels, but we're not that far along yet, but in 20 years, what will that look like? So there's a chance that decommissioning plan will be amended at some point. And just a note there, that decommissioning should occur when the soil is dry, to prevent soil compaction. A few other elements of the decommissioning is, for a large principal system, the decommissioning plan should also include projected costs for removal, net of the salvage value in current dollars, how the soil will be stabilized, and we wanna be cognizant that the PA 116 requires a bonding also, and so you don't wanna double dip there. If they're already paying for restoration under the PA 116 bond, you wanna be cognizant of that and not double, essentially, what they're paying, and so make sure that your bond is kind of in concert, or coalescing, I guess, with the PA 116 bond. And the developer also needs to establish the method of ensuring that those funds will be available for the site when it's decommissioned and stabilized, whether that's a surety bond or irrevocable letter of credit or cash deposit. Also for large systems, you wanna look at that value perhaps every three to five years for the life of the project, adjusting for inflation, salvage value, et cetera, so building all of those things into the decommissioning plan is important. All right, this final section of the sample zoning suggests a set of amendments to the site plan review section of the local ordinance, and adding to that site plan review article of the zoning ordinance, these additional provisions for the principal use systems, and so you'll see here plans for land clearing, the sound modeling study that Sarah referenced, the decommissioning plan, so these are all in the guidebook as well in terms of a checklist for the site plan. All right, and this is sort of just homework that we would like you to consider, and thinking about, of the many sample zoning regulations highlighted, maybe what is the most significant tool or concept for your community, for your particular community? And maybe bringing that back to your community, you know, "Hey, I learned this thing. Maybe it's, "Wow, solar really is all across the transect." We've just been focusing on the large systems, but we've gotta think about suburban, or urban, or solar on parking lots or brownfields, that kind of a thing. The difference between site plan, special land use, the dual use concept, repowering, or any other provisions, so we just invite you to kind of think about that for a second before we move on. - So we're getting close to the top of the hour. I'm gonna be very quick on the next couple of slides, and we will prioritize some questions that we have been receiving, so just stay tuned with us, folks. We wanna just mention some additional planning and zoning resources. Sarah and her team, they've curated a repository of templates and other guidance. It's available at the EGLE's website. You can see the URL there and you can find it with a search. There's case studies and FAQs as well. We would also point to a March-April issue of "Planning & Zoning News." Perhaps you can get a hold of copies of that, and that's another helpful resource, particularly on wind. Besides our sample zoning for solar, we do have a sample zoning for wind energy systems, most recently updated in October of 2020, so if that is another topic that your community has yet to address, or perhaps addressed many years ago, it could be time to look to an amendment on that topic as well. Also wanna just provide a reminder about this training being part of a broader series, and there will be additional opportunities in June for professional planners and attorneys to join Dr. Mills and Ms. Catherine Kaufman to learn more about really legal aspects of renewable energy regulation, and as a participant in today's session, or as a participant in a future professional planner session in June, you are now, so to speak, eligible for participation in bus tours that will be organized later in the month of June as well, so you'll get emails on these details before the month of May is out, and we'll be able to take advantage of some additional training. July and August, there will also be what we're calling mini workshops to sort of dive in deep and talk to experts about your approach to planning and zoning for each of these topics. We're at the end of our presentation. We would invite you to send additional questions to any of us, and to other contributors to the sample zoning resource.