- One, Georgia can reject new solar development: giving up the lead in the industry, shutting down businesses, and continuing to dirty the air with fossil fuels.
- Two, Georgia can build, build, build: inundating the state with any and all solar development, and creating an industrial landscape where farms, forests, and communities once flourished.
- Or, three, Georgians can demand smart solar siting: growing the industry, boosting local economies, and still protecting what makes the state special. Smart solar siting achieves the right balance between encouraging solar development and protecting local community culture and resources.
Choosing option three is easy. What’s more difficult is determining where, in any given community, the best locations to site solar exist. That’s where land use standards and zoning ordinances come in. They provide the information needed to properly site solar development. Georgia’s counties and cities are desperate for this information. So desperate that one county adopted land use standards designed for solar facilities in Utah. Right idea, wrong state. Georgia’s a unique place, and smart siting here is going to be different than anywhere else.
To fill this information gap, representatives from Emory University Law School, Georgia Institute of Technology, and University of Georgia brought their respective expertise together and published the Georgia Model Solar Zoning Ordinance and accompanying educational guide.
We wanted to make the best data readily available, and we wanted to tailor it to Georgia’s specific needs. Counties and cities now have a Georgia-specific tool to start adopting their own informed standards of where and how solar development should occur in their communities.
There’s always the argument that any regulation is bad regulation. And it’s true that not every community needs standards for solar development. Solar energy shouldn’t be treated any differently than other types of industry. If a county or city doesn’t already have general land use standards, it shouldn’t adopt some just for the sake of solar.
But most jurisdictions in Georgia do regulate land use. Adopting solar-specific standards in these jurisdictions can ensure land use requirements make sense for solar development, rather than trying to fit rules for old industry onto the technology of the future.
Adopting land use standards also gets ahead of potential conflict. Communities can agree to new solar proposals with the comfort that they are making an informed decision; industry can move forward with projects with a concrete understanding of the community’s expectations.
Georgia may be running down the right path, but it still can get tripped up. If Georgia wants it keep up the pace, it has to get smart.
Caroline Reiser, Fellow, and Mindy Goldstein, Director, Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University Law School.