Model As-of Right Zoning Ordinance or Bylaw: Allowing Use of Large-Scale Solar Energy Facilities (Massachusetts)

From Open Energy Information

Last modified on February 12, 2015.

Rules Regulations Policies Program

Place Massachusetts
Name Model As-of Right Zoning Ordinance or Bylaw: Allowing Use of Large-Scale Solar Energy Facilities
Incentive Type Solar/Wind Permitting Standards
Applicable Sector Local Government
Eligible Technologies Photovoltaics
Active Incentive Yes
Implementing Sector State/Territory
Energy Category Renewable Energy Incentive Programs

Date added to DSIRE 2009-10-01
Last DSIRE Review 2013-02-21

References DSIRE[1]


Note: This model ordinance was designed to provide guidance to local governments seeking to develop siting rules for large-scale, ground-mounted solar (250 kW and above). While it was developed as part of a cooperative effort involving several state agencies, the model itself has no legal or regulatory authority.

The Green Communities Act was passed in 2008. As part of this Act, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) developed an “as-of-right siting,”* model ordinance guiding the development of large-scale solar, which is defined as 250 kilowatts (kW) or more).

The model “as-of-right” siting must allow for ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations 250 kW (DC) or more. An essential part of “as-of-right” siting is the establishment of designated locations. Once the location(s) is (are) designated within a local jurisdiction, a solar development may proceed without the need for any special permits. A standard building permit and compliance with local zoning bylaws would be required.

The state model includes the following provisions (these provisions are updated periodically):

  • Compliance with Laws, Ordinances and Regulations Construction and operation of proposed large-scale ground-mounted solar facilities must be consistent with all applicable local, state and federal requirements, including but not limited to all applicable safety, construction, environmental, electrical, communications and aviation requirements.
  • Building Permit and Inspection All large-scale ground-mounted solar facilities must first obtain a building permit and work must then commence within 6 months (per state building code laws), extensions may be requested and granted multiple times.
  • Fees The fee required for a building permit.
  • Setbacks The model ordinance suggests front, side, and rear-set backs of between 10 to 25 feet in typical situations, but at least 50 feet when the property borders residential and/or conservation-recreation districts.
  • Signs and Lighting Lighting should comply with local, state, federal laws and should be designed to minimize lighting pollution. Signs should comply with local sign laws and include the owner of the project and provide an emergency contact phone number.

The state model also includes provisions regarding solar facility removal requirements, abandonment, project financial surety, and liability insurance. The state model lists documents required for the site plan review, including a location map, a site plan, landscape plans, operation and maintenance plans, and all relevant compliance documents (such as building permits and approvals).

For additional information on the model bylaw, see the DOER's Green Communities Grant Program Website.

*As-of-right siting is defined in the model ordinance as "development may proceed without the need for a special permit, variance, amendment, waiver, or other discretionary approval. As-of-right development may be subject to site plan review to determine conformance with local zoning ordinances or bylaws. Projects cannot be prohibited, but can be reasonably regulated by the inspector of buildings, building commissioner or local inspector, or if there is none in a town, the board of selectmen, or person or board designated by local ordinance or bylaw."

  • Incentive and policy data are reviewed and approved by the N.C. Solar Center's DSIRE project staff.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1  "Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)"