Establishing Utility-Scale Solar Projects: Federal Involvement

Amid renewed investment in solar energy generation, this working paper identifies the legal barriers to utility-scale solar projects and possible solutions to streamline the process.



May 11, 2021


Arthur G. Fraas, Valkyrie Buffa, and Lindsay Rich


Working Paper

Reading time

1 minute


Decarbonizing the electric utility sector will require a substantial investment in renewable energy projects. [1] This case study examines the federal permitting process for utility-scale solar projects sited on federal, state, tribal, and private lands to identify the possible barriers associated with achieving federal and state renewable energy goals. Section 2 provides an overview of utility-scale solar projects covered by the study. Section 3 details the permitting processes governing federal funding, siting, and permitting processes for utility-scale solar projects covered by this case study, with a focus on the time required to obtain a permit. Section 4 summarizes our findings and concludes the paper.

[1] States have assumed a key role to date in promoting the development of renewable energy facilities to replace fossil fuels in the electricity sector. Individual states have established Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) requiring that a certain percentage of electricity sold to customers within that state must be produced by renewable sources. Thirty-one states, Washington, DC, and three territories have adopted RPSs, while seven states and one territory have set renewable energy goals (Shields 2021).

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