Why Industrial Solar Plants Should Not Be Constructed In North Livermore Valley
1. Industrial Solar Plants Will Permanently Destroy North Livermore Valley’s Scenic Beauty
North Livermore Valley is a picturesque landscape consisting of native grasslands, pasturelands, creeks and open fields, surrounded by rolling hills and distant mountains.
The agricultural land in the North Livermore Valley is used for cattle grazing and the growing of dry hay and oats. In the winter and early spring, the valley turns a luscious green, and is golden brown for the remainder of the year.
Dividing the valley is North Livermore Avenue. Since the 1960s, Alameda County’s General Plan has designated North Livermore Avenue as a scenic corridor and sought to preserve the area’s outstanding scenic quality.
Bicyclists, motorcyclists, photographers, artists and sightseeing drivers frequent the area to enjoy the outstanding scenery and peacefulness of one of the few remaining rural areas of Alameda County.
The two massive power generation facilities proposed for North Livermore Valley permanently spoil the natural beauty of the valley.
The red-colored industrial power solar plant, called the Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage Project, is proposed by Intersect Power Company and will occupy 747 acres of agricultural land.
The Aramis project will extend for more than a mile at its widest point from Cayetano Creek to North Livermore Avenue and stretch for 1.5 miles along North Livermore Avenue, crossing Manning Road (in the foreground), and ending at the foothills of the northern edge of the valley.
The other industrial solar plant, proposed by Sunwalker Energy, is shown in orange. Its project area covers 72 acres of agricultural and ranch land starting at May School Road and extending north along North Livermore Valley Avenue.
This image is shows the project areas of the two proposed industrial solar plants looking to the north. The Aramis project in red starts south of Hartman Road and extends along North Livermore Avenue crossing Manning Road (in the distance), and ending at the foothills of the northern edge of the valley.
The combined project area of the power plants is massive, approximately 820 acres, large enough to fit Livermore Airport plus three Livermore SF Premium Outlet malls.
This another view looking to the north and slightly to the east. It shows a portion (in red) of the Aramis project. The 72-acre Sunwalker project is in orange on the right (east) side of the photo. The Sunwalke project starts at May School Road and extends north along North Livermore Valley Avenue.
Here is a view of two proposed industrial solar power plants looking to the west. In the foreground in orange is the Sunwalker Energy. Its project area will occupy 72 acres of agricultural and ranch land starting at May School Road (on left side of the photo) and extending north along North Livermore Valley Avenue. The larger Aramis project is in red.
Both plants combined will blanket the valley with nearly 350,000 solar panels mounted on metal poles and frames rising eight feet high. In addition, scores of transformers resting on concrete foundations, tracking and mounting systems and large-scale lithium ion battery storage stations – covering 1.65 acres of land – will be constructed.
Overhead transmission lines and towers, some equivalent to buildings ten stories tall, will be built to convey electricity from the solar plants to a PG&E power substation.
The valley floor rises in elevation as it extends north. Any landscaping installed will not hide or obscure the industrial plants from residents or motorists and bicyclists traversing the valley. In short, no method exists to hide or obscure the visual assault on the valley of 350,000 solar panels, multiple large battery station buildings, and overhead electrical transmission lines and poles reaching ten stories high.
These projects are moving through the planning and review process. We understand that the Sunwalker Energy project may reviewed in October 2020 by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments. The review of the Aramis project should follow. The public comment period on the draft environmental impact report for the Aramis project is open now. Visit our News & Updates page for how to access and read the report
If the solar plants are approved, North Livermore Valley will no longer remain a cherished scenic corridor. In a June 8, 2020, letter sent to the Alameda County planning department for the purpose of ensuring that a thorough environmental impact review of the Aramis solar project is conducted, environmentalist Dick Schneider wrote:
“The Aramis project alone will contain some 320,000 solar collectors spread across the landscape. Even when stowed, the project description indicates they will be 8 feet high. In operation, they are likely to be considerably higher. These industrial structures will blanket a large area of approximately 420 acres and be visible from a great distance. Without a doubt, they will change the visual character of the area from open farmland to a large-scale solar power plant.”
Here is a letter to the Board of Supervisors from the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the Sierra Club on the Aramis solar project.
2. Commercial Power Generation Will Destroy the Habitat for Numerous Sensitive Species
The North Livermore Valley is rich in special species and threatened flora and fauna.
A decade ago, the cities of Livermore, Pleasanton, and Dublin with Alameda County, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, and other organizations came together and published the East Alameda County Conservation Strategy (EACCS) . The purpose of the strategy is “to protect native biological diversity, habitat for native species, natural communities, and local ecosystems in eastern Alameda County.”
The EACCS identified 19 focal species that are known or likely to occur in eastern Alameda County.
Focal species are sometimes referred to as umbrella species. These are animal and plant species that provide an essential ecological function, or are indicative of essential habit conditions. Protecting focal species indirectly protects many other species that use the same habitat.
Nine of the 19 focal species analyzed by the EACCS can be found on the pasture where the industrial solar plants are planned. These species inhabit the area as well as use it as a migration corridor. The species are the California red-legged frog, Callippe silverspot butterfly, California tiger salamander, Foothill yellow-legged frog, Golden eagle, Tricolored blackbird, Western burrowing owl, American badger and San Joaquin kit fox.
We thank biologist Richard Lescalleet II who works on land in North Livermore Valley restricted to protect threatened animals and plants for taking these photos and providing us permission to post them.
During the expected nine months of construction, a steady stream of heavy trucks and worker vehicles will enter and leave the valley utilizing single lane roadways. This vehicle traffic – combined with the clearing of the land, installation of the hundreds of thousands of solar panels and building of battery storage stations and transmission towers – will be highly disruptive to the wildlife.
The industrial solar plants are proposed to operate for at least 50 years. The ongoing negative impact on wildlife will be considerable. Fencing surrounding the plants will prevent ingress and egress to the fields, and disrupt the migration of animals. The fields used by foxes, eagles and owls and other predator birds to hunt field mice, rats, squirrels and rabbits will no longer exist.
3. Industrial Solar Plants Are Not Legally Permitted in Agricultural Districts
No industrial solar plants exist in Alameda County. The North Livermore Valley parcels where the industrial solar plants are proposed to be constructed are zoned as an Agricultural District under the Alameda County General Plan.
Agricultural districts, as set forth in Section 17.06.010 of the Alameda County Code, 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.”
The Alameda County Code lists a wide range of uses allowed in agricultural districts. This includes farming, cattle grazing and raising of farm animals. Section 17.06.030. All of these uses currently occur in North Livermore Valley.
Other uses in agricultural districts are conditionally permitted subject to approval by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. Section 17.06.040.
The Alameda County Code, however, does not permit industrial solar power plants, as a matter of right or conditionally, in agricultural districts. Farming, cattle grazing and the raising of other farm animals, is impossible on land covered with solar photovoltaic panels.
Recognizing this legal barrier, the companies seeking to construct the industrial solar plants have announced that they will bring bee hives on site and pay a rancher for sheep to graze among the solar arrays. Cattle grazing, one of the primary uses of the agricultural land in the valley, could not occur.
The plan to set up bee hives and bring sheep to graze is a cynical attempt to create loopholes in the Alameda County Zoning Code and shoehorn industrial projects to fit the criteria for agricultural districts.
If power companies are so easily allowed to circumvent the Alameda County code. the restrictions on the use of agricultural land in all of Alameda County will be rendered meaningless. More agricultural lands will be purchased by energy companies. In a decade, North Livermore Valley from Highway 580 to the foothills north of Manning Road could become rows of solar arrays.
Note: Some have asked if the solar plants are not built, won’t the land one day be developed for track housing? The answer is no.
Alameda County’s Measure D prevents this. As explained by the Sierra Club, Measure D established for Eastern Alameda County “an Urban Growth Boundary to prevent sprawl from encroaching on our dwindling agricultural lands, open space, watersheds, and wildlife habitat.”
The only housing allowed in North Livermore Valley is the rural, limited housing we have today. Measure D has the force of law. It can only be changed by a vote of the voters.
4. Alameda County Should Complete Its Solar Policy Before Considering Any Individual Industrial Solar Plants
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
This saying applies to Alameda County’s haphazard, non-transparent and piecemeal approach to the review of commercial solar power generation in the rural parts of the county.
In 2011, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors directed the County Planning Department to undertake a public process for the appropriate location and review of proposed solar energy facilities. Numerous meetings occurred and reports were prepared over two years.
Nothing came of this effort. No solar policies and standards were produced and adopted by the Board of Supervisors. Instead, the process was suspended in 2013.
In 2018, the process restarted. One year later, the County Planning Department in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors listed as one of its priorities for the fiscal year “working on a comprehensive solar policy for solar energy that will focus on utility scale solar in East County.”
The county still has not produced a comprehensive solar policy.
As a result, we are left with ad hoc review of individual, mega solar plants without reference to policies and standards developed in consultation with experts in the fields of renewable energy and environmental protection and following the input of the community. This is not how responsive, transparent and informed-decision making by public agencies should occur.
In fact, a sound, comprehensive solar policy will lead to greater solar power generation in Alameda County. Solar companies need predictably for investing their capital. Knowing where the county supports solar power development will provide such predictability. Residents, likewise, should have the assurance than any new solar projects comply with county standards, and do not endanger the habitat or destroy scenic corridors.
Leading local environmental organizations, including the Tri-Valley Conservancy and Friends of Open Space and Vineyard, along with the City of Livermore and Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee, agree that Alameda County should complete a comprehensive solar policy before reviewing and approving any new solar power plants. The Tri-Valley Conservancy has stated,
The County has a responsibility to ensure that sufficient guiding policies are adopted before approving any projects, to minimize potential impacts and guarantee the public voice is heard. The County was directed by their Supervisors to complete a Solar Mapping Project that would have allowed the County to evaluate the impacts of solar projects on agriculture, biodiversity, visual impact, and other factors and determine suitable locations for their construction. This was not completed.
In summary, Alameda County should deliver on its commitment to produce a comprehensive solar policy prior to allowing energy companies to push forward with individual projects that may never be allowed if and when a solar policy is adopted.
5. It Is Unnecessary To Destroy Beautiful Open Space When Even Greater Solar Power Can Be Generated In Urban Areas
We appreciate the need for expedited action to address climate change through the expansion of renewable energy. We can achieve this goal, however, without sacrificing the natural beauty of North Livermore Valley. Small to medium scale solar energy installations can be built in urban locations where the energy will be consumed.
As explained in the Alameda County Community Climate Action Plan, “Commercial and industrial rooftops and parking lots provide an excellent opportunity for solar energy generation. These facilities tend to have large, flat roofs that are often well-suited for solar photovoltaic energy generation.” (page 51.) These solar installations can be found throughout Alameda County.
Known as distributed energy generation, this model provides economic advantages for both the solar providers and property owners. Solar companies can use existing transmission infrastructure at little or no cost. Property owners benefit from long-term stable electricity rates in their power purchase agreements.
The amount of solar energy that could be produced is considerable. East Bay Community Energy, Alameda County’s community choice aggregation authority, has estimated that 650 MW of electricity could be produced through distributed energy generation in urban areas in Alameda County.
With distributed energy generation, the environmental impact is minuscule compared to industrial solar plants built on agricultural land. There is no loss of open space or displacement of sensitive species from additional solar projects in urban settings.
In short, it is unnecessary to sacrifice one environmental value to achieve another. We can preserve the North Livermore Valley and generate greater renewable energy through adding solar panels to parking lots and rooftops in the Tri-Valley.
Additional Environmental Objections to the Proposed Industrial Solar Plants
The North Livermore Valley ranchers and farmers rely upon groundwater pumped to the surface from wells on their properties to for their own consumption and to sustain their animals and crops. The groundwater basin at the location of the two industrial solar plants has been identified as an area of special concern due to the presence of nitrates. If the plants are constructed it is at risk of becoming dangerously contaminated by chemicals from the solar panels carried by storm water and the substances used to clean the 350,000 solar modules at two plants. Even a minimal washing of the solar arrays will require an estimated 10-13 million gallons of water annually, all transported to the plants by truck.
- The important resource of Cayetano Creek bisects the proposed Aramis solar power plant. While dry in the summer, after winter rains a high volume of water flows through the creek. The surrounding area becomes flooded. Thousands of migratory birds stop to rest and feed on their way North. These are not ducks and geese, but rather “shorebirds” like Stilts, Plovers, Willets, Sandpipers. The Aramis project will obliterate the seasonal wetland. Moreover, overflow of water will now be forced back into the creak potentially eroding its banks and interfering with the salamanders and turtles that use the creek as breeding grounds.
- Finally, many of the devastating wild fires that have occurred in the North Bay and other parts of Northern California in recent years were started by damaged electrical transmission lines. The Aramis project includes plans for overhead electricity transmission lines in multiple locations, some 10 stories tall. High gusts of wind are common in the area and could bring down transmission lines, sparking fires. In addition, the Aramis project calls for the installation of scores of trailer-truck size lithium-ion battery stations. This will create a new wildfire risk to valley that never previously existed. Explosions and fires have occurred at battery stations worldwide, including one last year in Arizona that sent nine first responders to the hospital.
Together We Can Save Our Valley
The scenic beauty, natural habitat and open space of the North Livermore Valley belong to all of us and must not be destroyed by for-profit corporations.
Families in the North Livermore Valley have joined together to create this website. We are dedicated to Land Stewardship, the use of land and natural resources in a responsible, sustainable manner.
We are mindful of the pressing need to address climate change. We support solar power and other forms of renewable energy. Construction of two gigantic industrial solar plants in North Livermore, however, would cause permanent, unnecessary and destructive change.
Please Join Our Effort! We invite the residents of the North Livermore Valley, City of Livermore and nearby communities, and all persons wishing to preserve the valley’s agricultural land, scenic beauty and open space to join us.