Alameda County — Two Alameda County supervisors on Monday floated the idea of placing a moratorium on building new solar energy projects until the county can develop policies to address issues including their size, purpose and location.
Supervisors Nate Miley and David Haubert raised the idea of stopping any future solar projects — not those already approved — from going forward during a Board of Supervisors' Transportation and Planning Committee meeting.
"I'm not opposed to entertaining other projects, but I would be certainly hard pressed to approve any other project until after our solar policy is put in place," Haubert said.
The moratorium comments came toward the end of another county meeting to discuss progress made to develop a solar policy, a subject for months at the county’s Agriculture Advisory Committee (AAC). The AAC was directed long ago to develop ideas for policies that weigh building large solar energy plants to deal with climate change while at the same time maintaining the county’s open space.
The problem for the lawmakers is whatever policies they come up with are complicated and controversial. About 15 people addressed Haubert and Miley during the meeting on a variety of issues related to solar panel farms. They asked for more public input and suggestions on mapping that would address where farms could be located, and views of a proposal for agrivoltaics, a plan that blends solar farms with agriculture.
Dick Schneider, who sits on the AAC’s solar subcommittee, said the public needed more than the few minutes they received to talk to policy makers during meetings.
“People simply cannot provide meaningful public input in two to three minutes,” Schneider said. “Public workshops limited to this issue are crucial to the policy processes.”
Public speaker Jean King said the public should be involved in the mapping process, providing opinions on agricultural value, cultural sensitivity and other issues before any project is built on open land.
“The mapping exercise is important and essential before there can be any finalized policy or consideration of large-scale projects,” King said.
Although the meeting was supposed to provide the AAC with direction on how to proceed with their policy writing, the decision was made for Alameda County Planning Director Albert Lopez to hold more meetings with the public and solar industry “stakeholders” to come up with more ideas. Lopez said it might take him a few more months, but he was directed to provide the supervisors with an update in October.
Meanwhile, Miley questioned whether a moratorium was in order; the proposal might come up again at the October meeting.
“I know we decided not to do a moratorium before, but it does seem like a moratorium might be the appropriate thing,” Miley said.
Assistant County Counsel Rachel Sommovilla advised the supervisors that moratoriums are difficult to impose. She was asked to provide the rules for a moratorium at the next meeting.
Miley said it may not be in the public’s interest to consider new solar projects “when we have so many outstanding issues that need to be addressed and so many stakeholders that need to weigh in.”
“I’m saying this hesitantly, because it has been a long time,” Miley said. “It’s taken us a long time to get to this point, and I would hate to have anything delayed, but I do think maybe putting a moratorium will provide the necessary time frame, as well as the necessary public foundation for us to once and for all enact the most appropriate policy.”
Miley suggested that during a moratorium, county staff could come up with solar policies and produce the environmental reports necessary before allowing anything to be built. A county attorney said a moratorium would start at 45 days and could be extended to a year or more.
The county has discussed broad solar policies since July 2013, including where to place utility-scale solar energy facilities in the East County.
According to a county report, although solar energy is becoming more widely accepted, solar energy farms — such as the recently approved 410-acre Aramis facility in North Livermore — remain controversial because of the impact on open space, scenic beauty and effect on the natural habitat.
In a lengthy report to the supervisors, the AAC staff presented potential policies that include encouraging local solar energy production; identifying locations where solar farms should not be placed; building solar facilities that comply with Measure D, a ballot measure passed by voters in 2000 to protect open space; examining the impact of solar facilities on natural habitats and agricultural land; and how to decommission and remove a solar farm and restore the land.