Zoning ordinances or by-laws may encourage the use of solar energy systems and protect solar access by regulation of the orientation of streets, lots and buildings, maximum building height limits, minimum building set back requirements, limitations on the type, height and placement of vegetation and other provisions. Zoning ordinances or by-laws may also establish buffer zones and additional districts that protect solar access which overlap existing zoning districts. Zoning ordinances or by-laws may further regulate the planting and trimming of vegetation on public property to protect the solar access of private and public solar energy systems and buildings. Solar energy systems may be exempted from set back, building height, and roof and lot coverage restrictions.
Solar access provisions in Massachusetts allow for the creation of voluntary solar easements to protect solar exposure and authorizes zoning rules that prohibit unreasonable restrictions on solar access. Similar to solar easement provisions in many other states, solar easements in Massachusetts allow for the voluntary creation of solar access contracts, but do not make solar access an automatic right. In addition, the statutes allow for communities to authorize zoning boards to issue permits creating solar rights.
Solar Easement creation documents must include but are not limited to:
- A description of the dimensions of the easement expressed in measurable terms.
- The restrictions placed upon vegetation, structures, and other objects which would impair or obstruct the passage of sunlight through the easement.
- The amount, if any, of permissible obstruction of the passage of sunlight through the easement, expressed in measurable terms, such as a specific percentage of sunlight that may be obstructed.
- The provisions for trimming vegetation that would impermissibly obstruct the passage of sunlight through the easement including any compensation for trimming expenses.
- Any provisions for compensation of the owner of property benefiting from the easement in the event of impermissible obstruction of the easement.
- The terms or conditions, if any, under which the easement may be revised or terminated.
Massachusetts also prohibits restrictions on solar devices, voiding "any provision in an instrument relative to the ownership or use of real property which purports to forbid or unreasonably restrict the installation or use of a solar energy system ... or the building of structures that facilitate the collection of solar energy."
Furthermore, Massachusetts zoning laws prohibit local governments from enacting rules that prohibit or "unreasonably regulate" solar energy systems.