The first iteration of the zoning database began in 2019, with funding and support from Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to create an inventory of the current regulations on renewable energy solutions in each municipality in the state. The project evolved in 2021, when a three-year funding grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office allowed us to expand our documentation to five more Great Lakes states: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The zoning database is one part of a larger research project to understand how rural communities in our Great Lakes region are preparing for solar photovoltaic (PV) developments. You can read about this larger project here.
Data Collection Methods and Assumptions
Data collection consisted of three main efforts covering zoning jurisdiction, ordinance collection, and ordinance analysis. A detailed document explaining our data collection in-depth can be found (here) or on the ‘Data’ page (here). Overviews of the data collection process for each component are described below:
Zoning authority for each locality was evaluated by searching public records (e.g., public websites), contacting local municipalities (e.g., township/county zoning administrators and clerks), utilizing county level master plans and collecting input from experts in the field. Through these various records, local zoning authority was determined and classified accordingly.
Zoning Ordinance Collection
For each locality with zoning jurisdiction, efforts were made to collect the official, current zoning ordinance. For many localities this information is hosted online, either through the municipal or county website or an ordinance hosting service such as Municode. For other localities, zoning ordinances can only be accessed offline and we contacted localities directly to procure. A copy of the zoning ordinance we collected can be accessed by navigating our list of localities on the ‘Data’ or 'Maps' pages.
Zoning Ordinance Analysis
Collected zoning ordinances were searched for mentions of wind and solar energy. Each instance of these phrases was analyzed for its relevance to renewable energy siting and a determination was made on whether or not the mention was in reference to Principal Use and/or Accessory Use siting. These determinations were guided by discussions with experts in the field of renewable energy siting. For those localities that regulate principal use solar energy systems, the information on this database records 17 characteristics commonly found in solar energy zoning regulations. The stringency of individual ordinances is not analyzed in this database. The data collected here may not reflect the intentions of the developers of the zoning ordinances, but rather reflects the analysis of the research team.
Acknowledgement & Disclaimer
This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) under the Solar Energy Technologies Office Award Number EE00009361. It is also supported by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) Energy Services under grant number MEO-21-056.
This work was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of its employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the United States Government or any agency thereof.