Renewable energy siting guidelines offer tool for local officials 

As more companies, municipalities, states and utilities set clean energy goals, the demand for renewable energy will continue to increase.

Because of the complexity of energy projects, however, the process of drafting ordinances and approving permits can be confusing and challenging for local officials considering requests for the first time.

A new white paper from the Center for Rural Affairs — “Exploring Siting Guidance: Agriculture Siting Matrices Inform Renewable Energy Siting” — looks at how the creation of a set of guidelines, also known as a siting matrix, could help in that process.

“While a renewable energy siting matrix is a relatively new tool, the concept has been applied and used in other industries for years,” said Lindsay Mouw, policy associate for the center and author of the paper. “The agricultural sector has used livestock siting matrices, which provide guidance for responsible siting of livestock animal feeding operations.”

The paper provides an overview of livestock matrix tools used in Iowa and Nebraska and how they could serve as a model for evaluating renewable energy standards, such as setback distances, environmental compliance, and decommissioning plans. Additionally, the paper addresses the pros and cons of a siting matrix model and shares examples of programs established in states, such as Indiana, that can assist with decisions.

Mouw said the development of statewide renewable energy siting matrices can help reduce barriers to renewable energy development by providing guidance to local decision makers while improving transparency, trust, and fairness in the siting process. But, as the name suggests, they should be guidance, rather than a requirement.

“Every county and community has unique features that should be carefully considered by planning and zoning officials, and these considerations should lead to zoning that addresses the needs of residents,” she said. “While identifying standards that will operate effectively in every county is difficult, recommending broad principles and thoroughly researched guidance that communities and officials can use during the project permitting process is a possibility.”

For more information or to view “Exploring Siting Guidance: Agriculture Siting Matrices Inform Renewable Energy Siting,” visit