On Thursday, April 22, 2021, the Board of Supervisors yesterday delayed a vote on the Sunwalker industrial solar project proposed for environmentally important agricultural land in North Livermore Valley.
[Click this video link to see the proposed location of the Sunwalker solar plant and earlier approved Aramis project.]
The Supervisors expressed concern that the project may run afoul of the Williamson Act and questioned whether the County staff’s finding of consistency is supported by legal authority.
“This project does not belong in the scenic North Livermore Valley, where voters decided to support cultivated agriculture, and preserve open space, species habitat and scenic beauty,” stated Robert Selna, counsel for Save North Livermore Valley. “On the related Williamson Act issue, the Board of Supervisors wisely demanded more proof from County staff that the project complies with the Williamson Act.” So far, County staff has failed to supply any such proof.
Chris O’Brien, chair of the Save North Livermore Valley steering committee, stated, “We are grateful to the many community members that called on the Supervisors to reject the Sunwalker project. The project would open the floodgates to the industrialization of North Livermore Valley and the East County.
Four project appellants, including Save North Livermore Valley, and public speakers warned the Supervisors that the project, proposed for Williamson Act contracted property, violated the Act as well as Alameda County rules that implement the Act.
The County rules specifically state that solar panels may not cover more than 10 acres or 10% of the contracted land, whichever is less. The Williamson Act, also known as the California Land Conservation Act, permits counties to enter into contracts with private landowners to restricting their land for agricultural uses or ropen space use. Property owners, in return, receive property tax breaks.
The project proposes to cover more than 45 acres and 76% of the 59-acre project with solar panels. When the Supervisors asked Planning Director Albert Lopez how the project complied with the County rules and Williamson Act, Lopez said the County treated solar panels like wind turbines for the 10% and 10-acre restrictions, instead of like solar panels.
Alameda County rules state that – unlike solar panels -- the land area covered by wind turbines is NOT is not counted for Williamson Act restrictions. Lopez’s explanation was a troubling admission that the County does not follow its own rules.
The reason the County rules treat solar panels and wind turbines differently for Williamson Act acreage restrictions is that it is possible to conduct genuine agricultural uses, such as grazing cattle and growing crops, under wind turbines. Such is not the case with solar panels.
The Supervisors will revisit the project and their outstanding questions at a yet-to-be publicized date in June.