Alameda County – The county will soon generate an additional two megawatts of solar power –enough to power some 750 homes – thanks to a recent project approval by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments (EBZA).
But where that power will go, once generated, remains controversial.
The Alameda Grant Line Solar 1 project, on the eastern county border near the intersection of Grant Line Road and the Great Valley Parkway, will construct 400 photovoltaic arrays, an electric power system designed to supply usable solar power by means of photovoltaics, on 12 of the project site’s 23 acres. It will also build one inverter and three new wooden utility poles on the property.
“We’re in an energy crisis,” said project site owner Mani Sandhu. “We need more power, and it’s only going to get worse.”
The EBZA voted unanimously at its Sept. 8 meeting, with member Lori Souza absent, to certify the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) and to grant the project a conditional-use permit.
While the staff report cited projected population increases within the county’s urban growth boundary (UGB) to demonstrate a need for the project, project opponents raised concerns that, although located in Alameda County, the generated power will largely benefit development elsewhere.
“The project is located far outside the county UGB and will supply energy only to the local distribution grid in the vicinity of the project,” said Alameda County resident Dick Schneider. “As the EIR makes perfectly clear, the project will be used to supply energy to the Mountain House development across the county line in San Joaquin County.”
Board member Frank Imhof, however, explained that once power is fed into the grid, it cannot be traced back to its source.
Developed by New Jersey based Soltage, LLC, the project will feed into Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) Alameda County distribution grid through the Herdlyn 1102 substation, about five miles north of the project site.
Further scrutiny fell upon the county’s lack of a formal solar development policy and Grant Line Solar’s reference to a 2008 decision instead.
“By using this farcical notion that a 2008 administrative determination by the planning commission justifies this Soltage solar project is only inviting further litigation and delay,” said Livermore resident David Rounds, referring to ongoing litigation around the Aramis Solar Project in north Livermore.
Although county staff created a draft solar policy in 2017 to address large commercial solar in East County, controversies around project siting and sizes have delayed adoption, and the county Board of Supervisors has yet to adopt a final set of ordinances.
Alameda County Planning Director Albert Lopez, however, said the Board has provided guidance nonetheless.
“They approved a set of policies,” said Lopez. “They adopted a statement of policy that essentially approved of the policies in principle, with the expectation that we would come back and turn those into ordinances.”
Other county residents welcomed the project as one step closer to the world’s carbon-neutral goals.
Lynn Naylor, CEO of Innovation Tri-Valley (ITV), said, “ITV believes increased renewable energy production is critical to supporting our quality of life moving forward.”
The project’s use of local services also drew praise.
“I’m proud you’re contributing local jobs right here in Fremont, where we can contribute our high-tech services and high-tech hardware to go out here and build this solar stuff,” said Fremont resident Kelly Abreu. “This is the kind of stuff that Fremont’s supposed to be doing –and it’s doing it.”
The Soltage project will use a solar-tracking system designed and built by Fremont-based Nextracker, Inc. to help optimize its power output.
Project construction should not exceed three months, said Soltage Vice President Lori Bilella, and Soltage expects to begin power deliveries to PG&E in 2023.