Hundreds of pages of county emails obtained through a California Public Records Act request reveal the developer of the Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage facility believed that it had Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty’s early support.
Company representatives sought his help to smooth out issues concerning serious limitations on the project imposed by Measure D. As opposition grew, Aramis representatives checked in to ensure support was still in place.
Haggerty has stated that the county should decide on both projects in the coming months and not wait for the county’s solar guidelines policy to be completed.
Rob Selna, an attorney with Selna Partners, LLP, represents the group Save North Livermore Valley, which opposes the 410-acre Intersect Power’s Aramis development and the nearly 60-acre SunWalker project. Addressing the Aramis development, he said that it is inconsistent with parts of the Alameda County General Plan and Measure D, which was approved by voters across the county in 2000 to protect agriculture, wildlife habitat, watersheds and open space from excessive, badly located and harmful development.
“It certainly requires one to ignore the underlying principles and purpose of Measure D,” Selna said.
The proposals are far along in the planning process; both appear to be within weeks of going to a hearing before the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments. While the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) finds parts of the Aramis project inconsistent with some policies of the East County Community Plan related to the protection of viewsheds and the preservation of open space outside the county’s Urban Growth Boundary, it concludes the project is consistent with Measure D.
Save North Livermore Valley was formed earlier this year to oppose the two utility-scale solar projects that would blanket nearly 500 acres of pasturelands skirting Cayetano Creek a few miles north of Livermore. The emails were requested by the group, which shared them with The Independent.
Selna said the county’s rationale that the solar power plant is appropriate at the site is faulty. He asked the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to support a temporary moratorium on large-scale solar developments until solar policies to guide the appropriate scale and location of installations are in place.
The pause is supported by the county’s Agricultural Advisory Committee.
Although Haggerty states that he has not taken a position on the two solar projects, the emails state otherwise, said Chris O’Brien, a member of Save North Livermore Valley. He noted the emails implied Haggerty had given his support.
“You have to at least raise your eyebrows a little bit,” O’Brien said.
One email dated April 23, 2020, from Intersect’s political consultant Becca Perata to Wilson, thanked Haggerty for his support of the Aramis development.
"I know you and the supervisor have met with Marisa Mitchell of Intersect in the past to discuss the project, and your early support was invaluable,” Perata wrote.
On Sept. 26, 2017, months before Intersect Power submitted an application for a conditional-use permit on the Aramis project, emails show Wilson met with Mitchell and Seth Israel, a company partner who heads its site acquisition, permitting and land development activities.
Mitchell checked in with Wilson a few times in early 2018 after the application was submitted and sought “pro tips” including the names of the supervisor’s favorite causes and charities.
“As you’ve no doubt begun hearing some voices of opposition to the 100 MW (megawatt) Aramis solar project, I wanted to reach out and ensure that we still have your support,” Mitchell wrote in the July 28 email.
The 100 MW development is planned for 410 acres.
“We are running into a Measure D land compatibility issue — Planning Dept has drawn brand new GIS layers that encroach onto Aramis’ solar footprint, saying solar isn’t compatible, and we can’t spare any more land lost — already using so much land for conservation and open space.” Perata wrote in the May 20 email. “We would please like to get on the phone with you to discuss as we will need to know soon whether the Supervisor will support a finding of compatibility and make this thing viable. We’ve got a great community benefit package to discuss as well!”
Large-scale utility projects require a large number of acres in order to make the operation economically feasible; the more acres, the more megawatts it can produce.
Wilson wrote back in a reply email about an hour later.
“If it’s not compatible with Measure D then YIKES … I am not sure what my boss could do to help,” he said.
Bruce Jensen, a senior planner with Alameda County, in an interview said the maps in question were not new, and that no changes were made in relation to the zoning designations on the project site.
The Aramis project, still showing 410 acres, continues to move forward.
On Sept. 8, Haggerty, who chairs the board’s Transportation and Planning Committee, declined a request by the agricultural advisory panel and Save North Livermore Valley to pause the developments currently under consideration while the solar policies are developments.
“I have no problem doing a solar policy,” Haggerty said during the Sept. 8 meeting. “I have no problem with trying to get it done before December. But what I will say is that’s not going to apply to things that are already in the pipe. There’s a couple of projects I believe that are in the pipe right now that, quite frankly, we can’t change the rules on them. I don’t even know if that would be legal.”
At present, Wilson indicated that Haggerty is still in the process of reading the DEIR.
“Once we have that, we will wait and see what the lower legislative body does (East County Board of Zoning Adjustments) and go from there,” Wilson said. “The supervisor has not taken a position on this project, nor will he, before the vote comes before him at the Board of Supervisors.”