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wind energy

New report shows the diversity of clean energy siting policies and permitting authorities across the country 

June 13, 2024

Co-authored by Shawn Enterline, Senior Associate, Regulatory Assistance Project; Raphael Tisch, Department of Energy; and Ben Hoen, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Across the United States, support for renewable energy is growing. Public opinion surveys regularly show that most Americans see the development of lower-emission energy sources as a priority. The U.S. government is looking to keep up this momentum to reach its ambitious decarbonization goals with a flurry of federal incentives available through the Inflation Reduction Act.  

Before a large-scale solar or wind project can be built in a particular state or region, its developers face the complicated process of siting and permitting, which the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) defines as a series of decision-making processes and actions that determine the location and design of new renewable energy projects. A project could require approvals from multiple levels of government (Federal, Tribal, State, and local) that consider project aesthetics, economics, land use, and effects on water quality and wildlife habitat. 

A research team from the Regulatory Assistance Project and Clean Air Task Force, with support from DOE, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Consensus Building Institute, set out to simplify this complex web of energy laws and regulations for policymakers, developers, and renewable energy stakeholders.  

The result: a newly published inventory of state renewable energy siting policies, permitting authorities, and an interactive map that profiles all 50 states plus Puerto Rico. This inventory provides an improved understanding of the regulatory landscape for siting large-scale wind and solar projects across U.S. states and territories by documenting: 

  • The entities within each state or territory that make siting and permitting decisions; 
  • The level of government that has the authority to set standards for large-scale renewables siting and construction; 
  • The presence of siting and permitting timelines; 
  • Public involvement requirements; and 
  • The availability of permitting guides and model ordinances to support local jurisdictional decision-making. 

A key finding in the report is that a majority of states (37) give local governments authority to set siting standards (tip heights, setbacks, etc.). Beyond that, our research confirms that state approaches to siting and permitting can vary widely and are often difficult to categorize.  

Additional observations from the report include: 

  • The level of government with principal authority often depends on project size. In 27 states, principal authority for siting and permitting depends on project size, with larger projects typically sited at the state level – though project size thresholds differ significantly from state to state. 
  • Timelines for permitting vary widely. In 31 states, there are defined timelines for the permitting process, ranging from 30 days to a year. These timelines are often triggered by a specific initiation point, such as the developer applying for permission to build a project. 
  • Most states have public involvement requirements. In 34 states – for the most part, those where the state has authority by default or based on project size – the state has a statutory or regulatory requirement within the permitting process that includes public meetings or hearings.  
  • Published guidance is available in many states. We found that 29 states have published guides for siting and permitting solar, 33 for wind, and 25 for both solar and wind. These guides typically summarize the siting process, involved parties, and relevant policies, and are often published by a state agency, but can sometimes be the product of nonprofits or working groups serving a state or region. 
  • Model ordinances are available in many states. Because local governments have a key role in setting siting rules in most states, some have developed model ordinances for local authorities to use as guides. Model ordinances are available in 27 states for solar, 18 states for wind, and 15 states have both. 
  • Local authorities typically control siting standards. Solar or wind projects must meet standards to manage land use and regulate their development and construction. For example, there may be restrictions on how much land a project can use or where it can be built, or restrictions on wind turbine height and noise. These standards can be included in either a state law or a local zoning ordinance, but our research finds 37 states give local authorities the jurisdiction to set siting standards. 

The report ultimately highlights the diversity and complexity of regulatory frameworks for siting and permitting across the United States. While most states delegate considerable authority to local governments, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to siting and permitting large-scale renewable energy projects. As the momentum around permitting and siting reform continues to build, understanding and addressing the regulatory landscape state-by-state is vital to reaching U.S. decarbonization targets quickly and effectively.  

This inventory reflects an ever-changing landscape of laws and regulations across the 50 states and Puerto Rico, and the research team sought to capture the most up-to-date information prior to publication. We will need the help of experts across the country to keep this research up to date. U.S. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy welcomes clarifying comments on this work at [email protected]. 

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