Chris O’Brien of Save North Livermore Valley announced this week that Fremont Councilmember Vinnie Bacon and Dublin Mayor David Haubert have agreed to the following statement:
"We call on Alameda County Board of Supervisors to place a moratorium on the review of new solar power plants on agricultural land until the county completes a comprehensive study and mapping project on the appropriate siting, scale and operation of solar power plants, if any, on agricultural land, and incorporates this work in a solar ordinance and General Plan Amendment. The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments for Alameda County should likewise defer review of any individual proposed utility-scale solar facilities on agricultural land until the solar ordinance and General Plan Amendment are adopted."
O’Brien stated that the residents of North Livermore Valley deeply appreciate and thank Bacon and Mayor Haubert for listening to constituents’ concerns.
“We are all committed to addressing climate change through the development of more solar power, but insist the County proceed in a thoughtful, environmentally sound manner,” O’Brien continued.
Bacon and Haubert are competing in the Nov. 3 election to represent the residents of District 1 on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. District 1 includes North Livermore Valley; the cities of Livermore, Dublin and Fremont; and other unincorporated areas surrounding Livermore and Dublin.
Despite starting policy work in 2011, Alameda County still lacks a comprehensive plan for how to expand renewable energy in rural areas. In September 2020, Supervisor Scott Haggerty, whose term as Supervisor for District 1 ends in December, directed staff to restart the process of drafting a county solar policy. Haggerty also directed staff not to apply the policy to two industrial solar power plants that have been proposed for agricultural land in the North Livermore Valley.
“Supervisor Haggerty is advocating for, in effect, a ‘carve out’ of the North Livermore Valley from any future county solar policy,” stated O’Brien. “This defies common sense. The first location in rural Alameda County for new utility-scale solar power plants should not be the location that poses the greatest conflict with agriculture, natural habitat, open space and visual and scenic resources.”
North Livermore Valley was preserved as an agricultural community with stunning views of pasturelands, rolling hills and distant mountains. Since the 1950s, the North Livermore Valley has been zoned for agricultural and rural residential uses. For nearly the same period, Alameda County has recognized North Livermore Avenue in its General Plan as a scenic corridor and sought to preserve the area’s outstanding scenic quality. In 2000, Alameda County voters approved Measure D, which established an urban growth boundary to prevent sprawl from encroaching on the rural areas of east Alameda County, including North Livermore Valley.
“Countless persons and organizations spanning decades have fought to preserve the agricultural land, open space, watershed and wildlife habitats, and scenic beauty of North Livermore Valley. Their work and inspiring success is now at risk from two proposed industrial solar power plants,” wrote the Friends of Livermore, Save North Livermore, and Friends of Open Space & Vineyards in a press release. “The plants would dramatically and permanently alter a massive section of North Livermore Valley from open ranch and farmland into an industrial use — the commercial generation of electricity for sale to California’s energy grid. The alteration would gravely undermine Measure D.”
Intersect Power is the applicant of the Aramis Renewable Energy Project, the larger of the two projects (410 acres) proposed for unincorporated North Livermore. Marissa Mitchell, Intersect Power principle who specializes in the permitting and environmental policy matters, said Intersect “takes great care to site solar projects where their local benefits will be greatest and their local impacts fewest.”
"Aramis is a shining example of smart-from-the-start solar development. After nearly three years of environmental studies and reviews, the county's comprehensive Environmental Impact Report for the Aramis project provides a wealth of both site-specific and landscape-level data and analysis to serve decision-makers and the public so they can make their independent judgments about whether the project is well-sited, well-designed, and appropriately mitigated,” Mitchell said. “Aramis is sited on land that has impaired soils; has no viable water source for crop production; is adjacent to an existing substation; and is devoid of critical habitat. We are ready to continue moving forward through the county's existing process, which includes numerous prior precedents of finding that solar is compatible with agricultural land, and not put on the breaks for a solar policy that would duplicate the work already done for this project. We have designed Aramis to enhance wildlife habitat, promote continued agriculture, and provide abundant landscaping for a visually appealing aesthetic.
“Furthermore, drafting a solar policy would achieve some, but not all, of the environmental review obligations of any individual solar project proposal. For a solar policy, the County would prepare an Initial Study or an Environmental Impact Report to evaluate the opportunities and impacts of siting large-scale solar facilities throughout the County; however, the information will be coarse in scale and will not be sufficient to inform the public and decision-makers about any particular site.”
The three advocacy groups in opposition to the projects proposed for the scenic corridor expressed further concern.
“If approved, the two projects would create the precedent that solar power plants qualify as appropriate use of agricultural land in all Alameda County,” continued the press release. “Over the next 10 to 15 years, the scarce remaining agricultural land in Alameda County could be lost forever.”
The county transportation and planning committee on Sept. 8 decided to move forward on a countywide solar policy, but declined to pause the North Livermore solar projects pending completion of the solar policy. But that could change at a special meeting of the committee scheduled for Oct. 19 at 2:30 p.m., said Shawn Wilson, Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s chief of staff.
Haggerty, the District 1 Supervisor, chairs the committee and remains opposed to a moratorium on current solar projects in the pipeline, Wilson said. Haggerty previously cited concern that suddenly freezing projects that have undergone extensive environmental studies could trigger developer lawsuits against the county.
“The reality of stopping applications or halting them so we can change the rules doesn’t make legislative sense,” Wilson said.