Emmett Institute on Climate Change & the Environment

A New Solar Landscape: Improving County-Level Landscape Planning for Utility-Scale Solar PV Facilities

Ethan Elkind, Ted Lamm

CEN_EMM_PUB-New Solar Landscape
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Senate Bill 100 (de Leon, 2018) requires California's major utilities to obtain 60 percent of their electric power from renewable sources by 2030 and 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2045. California has met and exceeded its renewable energy targets to date, with over one-third of the utilities' electricity coming from renewable sources.

To meet these aggressive new targets, the state will need to significantly increase the development of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities. But those facilities can cover hundreds or thousands of acres in rural and undeveloped areas, raising environmental concerns and facing challenging local land use approval processes. County-level, landscape-level planning, which takes a proactive approach to balancing ecosystem needs and development goals, can help local governments ensure community input and environmental protection while streamlining permitting for optimal new solar facilities.

A New Solar Landscape offers a suite of policy solutions for incentivizing and improving landscape-level planning to meet California's solar development goals. Drawn from two stakeholder convenings co-facilitated by Berkeley Law's Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, and the UCLA Law Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the report outlines potential reforms such as:

  • Encouraging development of local landscape-level plans by linking them to incentives like expedited review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
  • Ensuring that project benefits flow first to communities most immediately affected by development.
  • Increasing support for transmission infrastructure located in areas appropriate for solar development.
  • Creating a consolidated, statewide zoning and planning data resource.

A New Solar Landscape presents these recommendations and many more with the potential to increase local and regional governments' capacity to engage in collaborative, landscape-level planning and their effectiveness in promoting utility-scale solar PV development while addressing residents' concerns and protecting local ecosystem resources.