The Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) is working to create a countywide solar policy.
While doing so, the group must take into consideration legislation that could impact open space and rooftop panel installation companies. As reported during the AAC’s May 25 meeting by Albion Power Company owner Charles Adams, buildings with rooftop panels (or distributed solar) are not being counted toward the state’s renewable energy goals. He said this could lead to the development of more utility-scale facilities, which cover acres of open land with panels, and less rooftop panels.
Additionally, Adams said that Assembly Bill (AB) 1139 – authored by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez and currently circulating in the assembly – would, if passed, change state policy and the economics “essentially ending rooftop solar.”
During the meeting, Adams gave a presentation to expand on the state of solar power generation in California. He pointed out areas where the state’s renewable energy goals are not aligned with legislation.
When former Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 100 into law in 2018, he set the state on a path toward 100% reliance on carbon-free energy by 2045. Solar energy is expected to play a major role in the state’s strategy toward achieving that goal, which isn’t surprising as California ranks fifth on the list of states receiving the most sunshine according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
However, among the issues raised by Adams was the exclusion of rooftop solar panels in the definition of clean energy in SB 100. Calling the situation counterintuitive, he said most Californians with solar panels on their roof “would be shocked to find out that they don’t count toward 100% clean energy.”
“They’re not counting rooftop solar toward (renewable energy goals), and that’s leading to, and intended to lead to, all of these solar farms – Aramis and things like that – being built,” Adams said during an interview with The Independent following the meeting. “Most houses can produce 100% of their energy, meaning their annual kilowatt hours, with rooftop (solar). I’m not telling you Salesforce Tower can, because it cannot. But rooftop solar should be first, and solar farms should be subsidizing what can’t be produced with rooftop solar or other technologies. Rooftop solar is kind of a slam dunk. It doesn’t destroy more of the environment.”
Entrenched energy interests are driving efforts at eliminating distributed generation, according to Adams. He stated that energy providers have created a false narrative by arguing that rooftop solar is only available to economically advantaged ratepayers.
“They’re making it a binary decision,” said Adams.
He offered a solution: providers could apply a higher rate to those who consume more energy; this charge would help to subsidize energy bills for low-income individuals.
“Those who use more would pay more to make sure that low-income (families have) a baseline,” he continued. “It doesn’t have to be a choice between the environment and low income ... Some people use 6,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Some people use 20,000 kWh per year. High-end users can afford to subsidize low-income users ... Surely a kilowatt hour produced without destroying our remaining wilderness and farmland is of greater value than a solar farm (produced) kilowatt hour that does destroy these irreplaceable items."
When drafting the solar policy, AAC Chair Chuck Moore said the objective will be to determine how to meet the renewable energy goals set by the state.
“The goal of the committee has been to take a look at mapping and identify some of the less productive lands,” Moore explained. “We want to get some policies in place so that when developers of solar power plants come into our area and they want to put a solar field in, that we’ve identified that, and we don’t get behind the curve like we are now with this Aramis project. I believe that if we would’ve had our policy done some time ago, things may look a little bit different.”
Dick Schneider, AAC Solar Policy Subcommittee member, said his group is working on the policy because utility-scale facilities would be sited on agricultural lands and would “therefore have an impact of agriculture.”
“Those power plants will also have impacts on protected species, views, etc.,” he said. “But it's their potential impact on agriculture that puts the issue before the Agricultural Advisory Committee.”
Alameda County first attempted to create a solar policy after several solar projects were approved on an ad-hoc basis in the early 2000s, Schneider explained.
“By the end of that decade, it was pretty clear that the county needed to have a solar policy to guide decisions,” he added.
Soon after, solar projects dried up, and the effort to create a policy languished until the next wave of projects surfaced in 2018. In October 2020, David Haubert, while still a candidate for the Alameda County District 1 Board of Supervisors’ seat, agreed to a statement supporting the creation of a countywide solar policy before proceeding with approval of a project like Aramis. He later approved Aramis in March 2021 before a policy had been implemented.
The solar policy subcommittee will now attempt to strike a balance between rooftop solar — distributed generation — and utility-scale solar generating power stations. The recommended policy will identify tracts of land suited to the construction of large-scale solar farms.
“The top policies are to use less energy and to put (solar) in the built environment,” Schneider explained. “Almost all the rest of the policies are what you do with generating renewable energy on open lands.”
The AAC expects to deliver a set of recommendations for a solar policy to the Board of Supervisors Transportation and Planning Committee in July. That committee, after making any changes it sees fit, will make the policy available for public input. From there, the policy will advance to the full board of supervisors for their consideration. Their input will be integrated, and an environmental impact report will be ordered.
“This whole thing is probably going to take a year to wrap up,” said Schneider.