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Why Doesn’t Alameda County Have a Solar Policy?

Contra Costa and Santa Clara Counties have solar policies for rural areas. Alameda County started working on a solar policy in 2011 and still does not have one. We explain what occurred in a Facebook Note.

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Save North Livermore Valley Requests Community to Call on County Officials to Preserve Agricultural Land and Open Space at Critical Meeting on Tuesday, November 24, 2020

November 17, 2020 – Chris O’Brien, a member of the steering committee for Save North Livermore Valley, stated today that Alameda County officials announced on Friday night, November 13, 2020, that they accelerated to Thanksgiving week the review of the environmental impact report for the Aramis industrial solar power plant and lithium-ion battery station complex proposed for North Livermore Valley and decision on whether or not to approve the project. A special meeting of the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments will occur on November 24, 2020, at 1:30 p.m.

“For months the corporate executives behind the massive Aramis project have denigrated the value of the agricultural land in North Livermore Valley, falsely claiming our soil is of poor quality and our land is rarely used for cattle grazing. Meanwhile, the public is unaware that these same executives plan on selling 75% of the power generated by the Aramis project to San Francisco electricity customers,” stated O’Brien. “The Aramis project is a monstrosity. It will destroy hundreds of acres of productive, environmentally important agricultural land and significantly and forever scar the scenic beauty of North Livermore Valley. Even a senior Alameda County planner concluded that the Aramis project does ‘not pass the laugh test’ for compliance with the Alameda County Zoning Code, Measure D and applicable environmental policies.”

“For over a century North Livermore Valley has been an agricultural community characterized by stunning views, open space and wildlife habitats. We are proud of our heritage as ranchers and farmers and take seriously our responsibility to care for and preserve the land for future generations,” added O’Brien. “We can still save our valley. We ask the community to speak at the upcoming meeting the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments and call on the board members to reject the project.”

Meeting Details

The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments will review the Aramis project on Tuesday, November 24, 2020. The meeting will start at 1:30 p.m. and be conducted via Zoom at the following link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/92158285462 The public will be given the opportunity to comment on the Aramis project.

Persons without internet access can attend by phone by calling (669) 900-9128.

Those that cannot attend the meeting may contact the three members of the Board of Zoning Adjustments – Frank Imhof, Derek Eddy and Scott Beyer – in advance of the meeting by email at the following email addresses:  timhof@earthlink.netderek@purpleorchid.comscott.beyer@wentevineyards.com

Key Reasons The Aramis Industrial Solar Power Plant and Lithium-ion Battery Station Complex Should Be Rejected

No utility-scale solar power plant of magnitude of the Aramis project – over 320,000, eight-foot tall solar arrays spread across 400 acres of agricultural land on a total project area of over 700 acres – exists in the San Francisco Bay Area. Miles of security fencing and internal access roads will be constructed. Overhead electrical transmission lines mounted on towers, some 10 stories tall, will be constructed. Thousands of flammable lithium-ion batteries will be stored on 5 acres of the facility in over 50 trailer truck-size battery stations.

Save North Livermore Valley fully appreciates the need to expand solar power. However, it is foolhardy to destroy open space, agricultural land, wildlife habitat and scenic resources to generate renewable energy, particularly when alternative sites that would not result in grave environmental damage exist.

Our principal objections to the Aramis solar facility are:

  1. The Aramis project violates Measure D.  Countless persons and organizations spanning decades have fought to preserve the agricultural land, open space, watershed and wildlife habitats, and scenic beauty of North Livermore Valley. Their work culminated in the passage of Measure D.

Under Measure D, the agricultural lands of Alameda County, including North Livermore, are to be preserved and protected from “excessive, badly located and harmful development.” Commercial electricity power generation is not a use that exists in North Livermore today nor is it related to the use of the land for agricultural purposes. To permit North Livermore Valley to be blanketed by hundreds of thousands of solar panels strikes a dagger in the heart of Measure D. 

 

  1. The Aramis project violates the County zoning code. North Livermore Valley is designated an agricultural district. Under the zoning code, agricultural districts are reserved for “agricultural and other nonurban uses, to conserve and protect existing agricultural uses, and to provide space for and encourage such uses in places where more intensive development is not desirable or necessary for the general welfare.” Farming, cattle grazing and the raising of farm animals is impossible on land covered with solar photovoltaic panels. 

 

  1. The Aramis project violates applicable environmental policies. North Livermore Valley area is a habitat for a wide variety of special status species and is a wildlife migration corridor. The Aramis project will obliterate farmland used by foxes, eagles, owls and other predator birds to hunt field mice, rats, squirrels and rabbits, and create a barrier for the migration of wildlife in the valley undermining the biodiversity of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

 

Among the public agencies and environmental organizations that have submitted highly detailed and extensive criticisms of the environmental impact of the Aramis project are the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Friends of Open Space and Vineyards, Friends of Livermore, the Golden Gate Audubon Society and Save Mount Diablo.

 

  1. No need exists to destroy North Livermore Valley to produce greater renewable energy. The Friends of Livermore conducted a preliminary assessment of the potential for solar power in rural Alameda County and found hundreds of acres are available on land outside North Livermore Valley suitable for solar facilities. Furthermore, far greater solar energy than will be produced by the Aramis project could be generated by widely installing solar panels on rooftops of commercial and industrial buildings and over parking lots across Alameda County.
Should North Livermore Valley Be Destroyed To Power San Francisco?
October 29, 2020No person alive today has a memory of Hetch Hetchy Valley before it was destroyed. Just a few miles south of and very much like Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy Valley was regarded as one of the most beautiful valleys in the world.

Despite opposition from the Sierra Club and most of the nation’s leading newspapers, Congress allowed the City of San Francisco to destroy Hetch Hetchy Valley to supply water to San Franciscans. 

Today, another environmentally-important valley, North Livermore Valley, is at risk to meet the utility needs of San Francisco. North Livermore Valley is a picturesque landscape consisting of native grasslands, pasturelands, creeks and open fields, surrounded by rolling hills and distant mountains.

Intersect Power company seeks to construct the Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage facility on agricultural land and open space at the northern end of North Livermore Valley. Intersect Power is based in San Francisco and that is where most of the power from the Aramis plant will be sent. Seventy-five percent of the electricity generated by the Aramis plant will be transmitted and sold to utility users in San Francisco. The remaining amount will be sold in the East Bay.  

County Board Continues Hearing on Industrial Solar Project for 60 Days
October 23, 2020Thank you to the nearly 100 persons that wrote to County officials over the past two weeks and the many persons that spoke at yesterday’s hearing by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments in support of preserving the open space, agricultural land, natural habitats and scenic beauty of North Livermore and in opposition to the construction of industrial solar power plants in the valley.

The Board of Zoning Adjustments continued the hearing on the first solar project proposed for North Livermore Valley for 60 days to further study the issue.

This, of course, is a temporary victory in our fight to save the valley. But with everyone’s continued work, more people will learn what is at stake and why it is unnecessary to expand solar power in Alameda County by destroying the agricultural land in North Livermore Valley. We do not have to sacrifice the timeless beauty of our valley to achieve greater renewable energy as the solar energy companies assert.

Alameda Supervisor Candidates Urge Moratorium on Solar Projects on Agricultural Land In Unincorporated County 
October 6, 2020 – Chris O’Brien of Save North Livermore Valley announced today that Fremont Council member Vinnie Bacon and Dublin Mayor David Haubert have agreed to the following joint statement: 

“We call on Alameda County Board of Supervisors to place a moratorium on the review of new solar power plants on agricultural land until the County completes a comprehensive study and mapping project on the appropriate siting, scale, and operation of solar power plants, if any, on agricultural land, and incorporates this work in a solar ordinance and General Plan Amendment. The East County Board of Zoning Adjustments for Alameda County should likewise defer review of any individual proposed utility-scale solar facilities.”

“The residents of North Livermore Valley deeply appreciate and thank Council member Bacon and Mayor Haubert for listening to our concerns. We are all committed to addressing climate change through the development of more solar power, but insist the County proceed in a thoughtful, environmentally sound manner,” stated O’Brien.

Bacon and Haubert are competing in the November 3, 2020 election to represent the residents of District 1 on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. District 1 includes North Livermore Valley and the Cities of Livermore, Dublin and Fremont.

Despite starting policy work in 2011, Alameda County still lacks a comprehensive plan for how to expand renewable energy in rural areas. In September 2020, Supervisor Scott Haggerty, whose term as Supervisor for District 1 ends in December, directed staff to restart the process of drafting a County solar policy. Supervisor Haggerty also directed staff not to apply the policy to two industrial solar power plants that have been proposed for agricultural land in North Livermore Valley.  

“Supervisor Haggerty is advocating for, in effect, a ‘carve out’ of the North Livermore Valley from any future County solar policy,” stated O’Brien. “This defies commonsense. The first location in rural Alameda County for new utility-scale solar power plants should not be the location that poses the greatest conflict with agriculture, natural habitat, open space and visual and scenic resources.”

 

Save North Livermore Valley, Friends of Livermore and Friends of Open Space & Vineyards Call For Moratorium On New Industrial Solar Power Plants On Agricultural Land Pending Alameda County’s Completion Of A Comprehensive Solar Policy 
October 5, 2020 – North Livermore Valley has been saved as an agricultural community with stunning views of pasturelands, rolling hills and distant mountains.

Since the 1950s, the North Livermore Valley has been zoned for agricultural and rural residential uses. For nearly the same period, Alameda County has recognized North Livermore Avenue in its General Plan as a scenic corridor and sought to preserve the area’s outstanding scenic quality. In 2000, Alameda County voters approved Measure D which established an urban growth boundary to prevent sprawl from encroaching on the rural areas of east Alameda County, including North Livermore Valley.

Countless persons and organizations spanning decades have fought to preserve the agricultural land, open space, watershed and wildlife habitats, and scenic beauty of North Livermore Valley. Their work and inspiring success is now at risk from two proposed industrial solar power plants. 

The plants would dramatically and permanently alter a massive section of North Livermore Valley from open ranch and farmland into an industrial use – the commercial generation of electricity for sale to California’s energy grid. The alteration would gravely undermine Measure D.

Furthermore, if approved, the two projects would create the precedent that solar power plants qualify as appropriate use of agricultural land in all Alameda County. Over the next 10-15 years, the scarce remaining agricultural land in Alameda County could be lost forever.

We call on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to place a moratorium on the review of new solar power plants on agricultural land until the County completes a comprehensive study and mapping project to identify the appropriate siting, scale and operations of solar power plants, if any, on agricultural land, and incorporate the study findings in a solar ordinance and General Plan Amendment.

Likewise, the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments should defer review of any individual proposed utility-scale solar facilities on agricultural land until this work is completed.

We look forward to offering our input and participating with County staff in identifying the most efficient and environmentally sound ways to generate greater renewable energy in harmony with Measure D and other relevant standards and policies for rural areas.

Santa Clara County adopted a policy for utility-scale solar power plants on agricultural land in 2010. Contra Costa County did the same earlier this year. Without its own solar policy, Alameda County is needlessly pitting the preservation of agricultural land and open space against expanding renewable energy.

About Our Groups

Save North Livermore Valley is a grassroots group of local residents formed this year and committed to preserving our valley for future generations.

Founded in 2002, Friends of Livermore is dedicated to preserving the open space of Livermore Valley and was one of the principal proponents of Measure D.

Friends of Open Space and Vineyards, a nonprofit organization founded in 1981, supports the permanent protection of the Livermore Valley region’s open spaces and agricultural lands.