A local advocacy group in Livermore recently engaged the services of a consulting firm to identify solar sites for utility and municipal scale solar in the East Alameda County area.
The firm provides experience in solar development site selection nationwide. The Friends of Livermore (FOL) is looking to save prime agricultural land in the region by exploring alternatives to two currently proposed North Livermore solar utility-scale projects.
The report provided to FOL shows that a total of 756 acres of utility scale sites producing about 135 megawatts were found, along with about 42 megawatts of municipal sites.
The two North Livermore projects coming before Alameda County officials involve Sunwalker, a 6-megawatt facility on nearly 60 acres of land north of May School Road, east of North Livermore Avenue, as well as Aramis, a 100-megawatt solar and battery storage facility planned for 410 acres adjacent to Cayetano Creek across North Livermore Avenue from the Sunwalker installation.
“We asked for recommendations of possible sites in the east county area for utility and municipal scale solar, that is, Distributed Generation (DG), except for sites on Resource Management (RM) and Water Management (WM) designated land,” said Dick Schneider, a member of the Friends of Livermore. “This included identifying sites outside and within the urban growth boundaries of Tri-Valley cities that can be repurposed or dual purposed for solar.”
Schneider continued, “Friends of Livermore suggested some areas to examine, and the consultant suggested sites on its own. The good news is that there are a variety of places where solar can be placed that avoid the current controversy over North Livermore. In addition, strategies were suggested that a county and/or a municipality could use to promote responsible development."
The group notes that the Aramis project in particular violates Measure D, approved in 2000 by voters to establish an urban growth boundary (UGB) to prevent sprawl from encroaching on the rural areas of east Alameda County. Schneider stated that 40 acres of land in question under the Aramis project are designated Resource Management (RM) or Water Management (WM) land.
“No matter what the county decides about large parcel agriculture lands in the remainder of the project, no photovoltaic power plants should be located on RM or WM land,” he said.
In a memorandum presented to FOL, a total of seven sites were evaluated in the report, with three comparable to the Aramis site in terms of utility-scale designation. The sum of the proposed utility-scale sites is 756 acres, which would produce roughly 135 megawatts.
According to Schneider, while all sites are near substations or high-voltage power lines, the consultant did not determine whether interconnection space is currently available at each one. The two greenfield locations require careful evaluation of site-specific factors that lengthen development timelines.
The three proposed regions include land owned by Maria Nguyen Trust, Pacific Satellite Connection Inc. and Lyla & Walter Fries Trust for a total of 128.8 acres (21.47 potential megawatts); 381 acres owned by Wildlands Inc., Midway Power LLC and PG&E Co. (69.27 potential megawatts); and five parcels between USL Pleasanton Lakes and Kiewit Peter Sons Company for a total 247 acres (44.9 potential megawatts). None of the named landowners who appear on public records were contacted to gauge interest in developing solar on their properties.
The consultants further stated that some of the sites are located near or adjacent to substations that appear to have an open bay to accommodate development; the remaining sites are located along transmission lines that may allow for the project to tap the line. The company warned, “The option may be expensive, but it is a doable alternative if the project were large enough.”
The memorandum also spelled out several public opportunities for solar installation, including parcels owned by the City of Livermore and the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District.
The report notes, “In addition, the City of Livermore has several locations that are ideal to install solar covered parking for its employees and citizens. Although the cost of solar covered parking can be 30-40% higher than other forms of solar installations, if incentivized, it could reduce power consumption on-site at these facilities. Net metering is one such incentive.”
In regard to distributed generation (DG), the report included private opportunities for solar, indicating, “Outside of offering rooftop incentive programs, there are several sites within Livermore and Alameda County that are ideal for small distributive energy development that will produce less then 10 megawatts, but have the potential to be an alternative to large scale utility development.”
Those properties outlined for a DG total of 251.22 acres and 41.87 megawatts include: 20.56 acres owned by City and County of San Francisco Water Department for 3.43 potential megawatts; Jamieson Company LLC’s 57.52 acres for 9.58 megawatts; Rancho Del Charro LLC’s 113.23 acres for 18.87 megawatts; and USL Pleasanton Lakes LP’s 59.91 acres for 9.99 megawatts.
Board of Supervisors Review Next Steps, Recommend Approving Current Solar Projects
Schneider notes that the work to find alternatives could take place as Alameda County restarts the process of drafting a county solar policy. At this week’s Oct. 19 Transportation and Planning meeting, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors met to review a staff presentation presented by Bruce Jensen on draft solar policies for the county and the East County Area Plan. Staff did not make any specific recommendation at the meeting, but did recommend proceeding with implementing an urban unincorporated solar program; Jensen added that staff does recommend a general plan amendment to incorporate policies into the East County Area Plan (ECAP).
Responding to Supervisor Nate Miley’s request for a next step, Supervisor Scott Haggerty expanded.
“We went through the solar policy last time and tried to come up with something. It was a very difficult process, and in fact, the Sierra Club was sitting in the audience when we tried to deal with these one by one,” Haggerty said. “I think there’s a few items that we need to look at.”
Haggerty said he agrees the county needs to develop a solar map, identify potential locations based on topography, and identify prime agricultural lands.
“And then, also, I think we need to look at how we’re going to deal with prime ag land. Do we place it on one-to-one ratio, and encourage local projects, such as rooftop solar over parking lots, like we’re doing at schools?” Haggerty asked.
Haggerty went on to state that he needed a better understanding of Measure D and ECAP.
“People are saying (utility scale solar) is not legal under Measure D, but I thought for sure it was, so I think we need to get a staff report on that,” Haggerty said.
During a public hearing set for Thursday, Oct. 22, at 1:30 p.m., the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) will consider the Sunwalker solar development and vote on whether to approve or deny the Final EIR and conditional use permit. In addition, the BZA will take public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the proposed Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage facility. No action will be taken on the Aramis project. Schneider was set to share the findings presented by the consultants engaged by the community groups to the BZA.
The deadline for submitting written comments on the DEIR is Nov. 2. They should be directed to Andrew Young, Senior Planner, County of Alameda, Planning Department 224 W. Winton Ave., Room 111 Hayward, CA 94544 or Email: Andrew.email@example.com.
Schneider concluded, “We remain hopeful that the county will undertake a study of least-conflict lands, similar to what was carried out in the San Joaquin Valley, before the county approves any projects that now divide the Livermore community.”