The Town of Amherst has set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and needs to develop additional renewable energy generation to meet those targets. Given the need to develop solar and protect open space, the Town wanted to better understand community sentiment surrounding solar development, systematically understand solar feasibility town-wide, and produce estimates of current land use areas to later generate solar development goals. 



Using publicly available data GZA developed a fine-scale data layer characterizing solar feasibility throughout town based on four criteria:

  • Distance to the nearest 3-phase distribution line
  • Current capacity of the nearest 3-phase distribution line
  • Slope
  • Aspect

Land uses such as wetlands, roadways and rights-of-way, and properties with conservation restrictions were removed from the analysis to present a realistic characterization of the town. GZA developed this mapping layer and presented it at several committee meetings to engage and inform citizens about the process and considerations. 

To help the town understand overall sentiment, GZA conducted an online survey about various solar development types across a variety of land uses. GZA hosted two in-person workshops. To broadly engage the community, workshop and survey notices were provided via direct mailings, fliers, and social and traditional media outlets and materials were available in multiple languages.



GZA’s knowledge of available databases, land use regulations, and solar developer physical constraints helped the Client characterize solar feasibility town-wide in a systematic way for future use by residents, developers, and town officials. The map and its data can be used to generate estimates of solar development capacity by land type in coordination with the survey results to balance residents’ solar preferences with the need to quickly develop renewable energy.