Alameda County approves largest solar farm in Bay Area
Board of Supervisors denies appeals
By ANGELA RUGGIERO | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: March 4, 2021 at 7:19 p.m. | UPDATED: March 5, 2021 at 4:35 p.m.
A 350-acre solar farm could rise from agricultural land north of Livermore after the Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the controversial project on Thursday.
But opponents of Intersect Power’s proposed solar farm — which would be the Bay Area’s largest — say they will keep fighting to halt the project, this time by suing.
Opponents, which include Friends of Livermore, Save North Livermore Valley and Friends of Vineyard and Open Space, contend the Aramis Renewable Energy Project would tarnish the scenic character of rural north Livermore and conflict with requirements of Measure D, which county voters approved in 2000.
Measure D aims to prevent development from sprawling to eastern Alameda County by protecting agriculture, open space and wildlife. In three separate appeals of a zoning board’s November approval of the solar farm, opponents argued that industrial solar operations aren’t compatible with agriculture and Measure D mandates that any proposed changes to land use must be OK’d by residents.
They asked that supervisors not take any action until the county could craft a policy saying where large-scale solar projects should go, if anywhere. The county indicated such a policy would require too much time to research and draft.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Stephen Cassidy of Friends of Vineyard and Open Space told the Board of Supervisors.
Rob Selna, an attorney and representative of Save North Livermore Valley, said in an interview Thursday that a “coalition of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, Alameda County voters and proponents of good government” intend to file a lawsuit. During the meeting, he called the project “a betrayal of the public trust,” referring to Measure D.
When complete, Intersect Power said its 100-megawatt solar farm near Livermore would be the largest in the Bay Area. MCE Solar One opened a 60-acre, 10.5-megawatt solar farm in Richmond in 2018.
Early in the board’s 10-hour special meeting, Supervisor Richard Valle suggested sending the proposal to the Planning Commission for review, saying it should have gone there first. But when county staff estimated it would take at least 90 days to schedule the project for a commission meeting, Intersect Power representative Marisa Mitchell told supervisors the 90-day delay would “kill this project and all its benefits.”
Asked if a potential lawsuit could delay the project enough to kill it, Mitchell told this news organization in an email, “We are unable to speculate what the impact could be at this time.”
Even though it received the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments’ approval in November, Intersect Power also appealed the decision because of conditions imposed, such as bigger distance setbacks than requested and a requirement that it plant olive trees or vineyards on the property. The supervisors denied its appeal and upheld the conditions, with some minor changes.
Almost 80 people spoke during the meeting, split for and against.
Among the proponents were members of various workers unions throughout the region who said the project would bring 400 jobs to the East Bay. Others, like the Sierra Club, lauded it because of the renewable energy the panels would generate, helping to bring the state closer to its goal of using 50% carbon-free renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% by 2045.
Intersect Power says the solar farm will have about 300,000 solar panels. If all goes well, construction could start in mid-2022 and operations could begin by mid-2023, according to Intersect.
David Rounds, of Friends of Livermore, told the board that despite the need for renewable energy, the project isn’t critical to the state’s 2030 and 2045 energy goals. Alameda County is doing a great job and California is leading the nation in clean energy, he said.
“Solar fields can go many places, but they cannot and should not go everywhere,” he said.
As part of its proposal, Intersect Power plans to continue some agricultural practices of the area. That would include beekeeping, which aims to produce some 5,000 pounds of honey per year, a chicken flock to produce about 70,000 eggs per year and sheep grazing during parts of the year.
The company also will dedicate an easement of the property for a public hiking trail, likely to be managed by either the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District or the East Bay Regional Parks District.
The Aramis project and the nearby 81-acre Livermore Community Solar Farm proposed by Oakland’s SunWalker Energy together are expected to provide enough power for up to 25,000 homes and businesses. Opposition also has surfaced against the 81-acre SunWalker project, which hasn’t been approved yet.
The county previously approved two smaller solar farms: the 2-megawatt GreenVolts near Mountain House on the eastern edge of the county, and Cool Earth Solar in the Altamont. The supervisors approved the Cool Earth project in 2012 on appeal.