LPC Solar 07-30-20 078

(Photo - Doug Jorgensen)

LIVERMORE — Save North Livermore Valley (SNLV), the Friends of Livermore (FOL), and the Friends of Open Space and Vineyards this week planned to file appeals to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors regarding a large solar project set for North Livermore.

All three urged City of Livermore officials to do the same before the deadline this Friday, Dec. 4. The Board of Supervisors will make the final decision.

Alameda County Planning Director Albert Lopez contacted at press time said the county planning department had not yet received a formal appeal packet but was anticipating an appeal from project opponents based on prior statements.

While the applicant Intersect Power had not signaled a desire to appeal, Lopez said the developer could also choose to appeal the additional conditions of approval imposed by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA), once the ramifications of the changes are fully realized.

The code allows appeals to be made directly to the Board of Supervisors or to the planning department.

The groups’ appeals and requests to the city followed a BZA decision last week to approve a conditional-use permit and certify the environmental impact report (EIR) for the controversial Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage Project. The Aramis project is proposed for 580 acres of farmland — of which 410 acres would contain solar arrays and support facilities — located about 2 miles north of Livermore along Cayetano Creek, just west of North Livermore Avenue, with another section extending north of Manning Road.

The project evoked different responses from environmentalists, as proponents of Aramis pushed for renewable energy, while others advocated for protecting agricultural land, endangered plants and animals, and Measure D — a measure passed by voters in 2000 to protect the valley from urban sprawl.

“The City of Livermore has called upon Alameda County officials in three letters ... not to approve any utility-scale solar facilities, including the Aramis project, until the county adopts a comprehensive solar plan for the appropriate siting, scale and operations of large-scale solar power facilities in the East County,” stated the letter signed by Chris O’Brien, Sue & Steve Springer and Merlin Newtown — leaders of the SNLV steering committee.

The SNLV letter noted that county planning staff repeatedly ignored the city's request to develop a county solar policy and accelerated the review of the Aramis project by the BZA to Thanksgiving week.

“Furthermore, because the City of Livermore representative to East Bay Community Energy recently voted in favor of a conditional power supply agreement with Intersect Power for 25% of the power from the Aramis project (the other 75% of the power is contracted to San Francisco), an Aramis spokesperson asserted at the BZA hearing that the City of Livermore supports the Aramis project,” the SNLV letter continued. “The Aramis project is massive; its project area is greater in size than Livermore Airport. The county should not needlessly pit the important environmental goal of greater renewable energy against preservation of open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural land and scenic resources.

“Moreover, the Aramis project will set the precedent for the industrialization of North Livermore Valley from the foothills in the northern portion of the valley down to Springtown and Highway 580. The city will lose its voice in shaping the future of North Livermore Valley.

“County planning staff have displayed a flagrant disregard of the city's respectful request to forego approval of the Aramis project prior to establishing a comprehensive solar policy. The only option remaining is for the city to file an appeal.

“We believe the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will take the city's position seriously. If they do not, the fact the City filed an appeal to the Board of Supervisors will secure the option for the City to exercise its right to commence litigation to stop the Aramis project.”

Representing the FOL, Michael Fredrich’s letter to the city contained a similar message, which outlined concerns that the county has yet to develop a solar policy.

“I understand my request may be difficult for you, but the future of the North Livermore Valley is at stake,” Fredrich stated in the letter. “Many have worked for many years to preserve North Livermore. I strongly encourage the City of Livermore to file an appeal of the BZA decision in order to safeguard and preserve the valley for future generations of Livermore residents.”

The Friends of Open Space and Vineyards’ letter to the city, signed by Tamara Reus, further pointed out concerns around the project’s lack of compensatory mitigation, which have been echoed by other opponents.

“The Aramis project is an example of unsound environmental analysis, bad planning, and poor public policy choices. It will significantly impact the views in the scenic corridor and the rural character of North Livermore,” Reus wrote. “It violates County Measure D and other county policies. It fails to provide adequate mitigation for species. In fact, County staff and the applicant totally disregarded the recommendations of several organizations concerned about special-status species protection. Most significantly, they ignored the mitigation measures designated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

Lopez, the county planning director, confirmed a hearing date for appeals was being considered for the Board of Supervisors’ Dec. 15 meeting. But he said any appeal hearings are more likely to be heard later in December or in January.