September 15, 2020
This image is shows the project areas of the two proposed industrial solar plants looking to the north. Intersect Power's Aramis project in red starts south of Hartman Road and extends for 1.5 miles along North Livermore Avenue, crosses Manning Road (in the distance), and ends in the foothills of the northern border of the valley. The total project area for the Aramis plant covers 747 acres of farm and ranch land.

The other industrial solar plant, proposed by Sunwalker Energy, is shown in orange. The Sunwalker project area covers 72 acres of farm and ranch land starting at May School Road and extending north along North Livermore Avenue. We have posted additional photos of the project areas on our website.
Nine years ago, Chris Bazar, the Director of the Alameda County Community Development Agency, sought direction from the Board of Supervisors "to initiate a public process to amend the County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance" for the development of a solar energy policy for rural Alameda County. Bazar wrote:

"Given the urgent need for renewable energy in the state, it is important that the County consider the development of SEFs, but it is equally important that this development does not adversely affect such valued resources as open space and agricultural and biological resources. Having strong policies in place will help to protect these resources."

If Alameda County had done what Bazar recommended in 2011, there likely would be no need for our campaign to save North Livermore Valley. Energy companies would have been directed to propose solar power plants in rural areas of the county with the least impact on agricultural land, biodiversity and wildlife habitat, and scenic and visual resources.

Many other California counties have adopted solar policies and zoning ordinances for solar projects on agricultural land, including Contra Costa County earlier this year and Santa Clara County in 2010.

Why didn't Alameda County get the job done?

First, the Board of Supervisors agreed with Bazar's request. The Board directed the Planning Department to develop a comprehensive solar policy. In February 2012, Albert Lopez, Planning Director, told the Board of Supervisors that the work on the solar policy was progressing "at a fairly rapid clip." However, the process came to an abrupt halt in 2013 and was "suspended indefinitely."

We found no minutes or record from the Board of Supervisors directing the Planning Department to suspend work on a solar policy.

Instead, in a 2018 memo, Bazar and Lopez stated that in July 2013 the Board of Supervisors Transportation/Planning Committee - in a meeting in which Supervisor Scott Haggerty was the only Supervisor present - staff was "directed staff to develop a set of policies that would cover most issues of concern, but also wanted the flexibility to evaluate each utility-scale solar proposal on a case-by-case basis."

Five years passed. During this period, no set of policies governing solar energy in rural Alameda County were ever presented to the full Board of Supervisors, or even the Transportation/Planning Committee for approval.
Then, in 2018, staff sought to restart the process and listed in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors "working on a comprehensive solar policy" for eastern Alameda County as one of the Planning Department's key projects for fiscal year 2019-2020.

The purpose of the solar policy was to "minimize conflict with agriculture, open space and habitat; and improve visual quality."

Staff issued a Request for Proposals for identifying the least conflict areas for utility-solar power plants in the County, but let the project fall by the wayside in 2019. No solar policy was completed.
Board Committee Decides Solar Projects Proposed For North Livermore Will Not Be Governed By Any County Solar Policy

On August 20, 2020, the Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) unanimously voted for the County to defer consideration of new utility-scale solar facilities until the County completes a comprehensive solar policy. A subcommittee of the AAC examined the question of solar power plants in rural areas in depth over the Summer.

On September 8, 2020, the AAC presented their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors Transportation/Planning Committee.

At the meeting, Supervisor Haggerty agreed that the Planning Department should re-start the process of developing a comprehensive solar policy and directed the Department to do so on an expedited basis.

On the critical, second part of the AAC's recommendation - that consideration of any utility-scale solar facilities be deferred until the County solar policy is completed - without taking a vote, Supervisor Haggerty rejected the recommendation. He stated it was County policy to review utility-scale solar projects on a case-by-case basis.

As a result, absent action by the Board of Supervisors, the two projects proposed for North Livermore Valley will not be evaluated under the countywide standards and guidelines for solar facilities on rural land that staff has been directed (again) to develop.

To our knowledge, the Board of Supervisors never voted to authorize the review utility-scale solar projects in rural areas on a case-by-case basis. Nor do any minutes exist from a Board Transportation/Planning Committee showing this directive was given to the Planning Department.

We Are Asking the Full Board of Supervisors To Hear This Matter

Having a policy of reviewing each solar project on a case by case basis is no different than not having any policy at all, and contrary to the Board of Supervisors' direction in 2011.

It defies common sense and principles of sound government for county officials to develop a solar policy on an expedited basis while simultaneously reviewing and possibly approving solar facilities with a 50-year life span in an area that poses a high conflict with important agricultural and natural resources without the benefit of the solar policy.

As the Tri-Valley Conservancy stated in a letter to the Livermore City Council,

“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.”

By failing to review the solar power plants proposed for North Livermore Valley under a comprehensive solar policy, the County is needlessly pitting two important environmental values – greater renewable energy and environmental preservation – against each other.

Thus, we submitted a letter to Board of Supervisors President Richard Valle asking that the topic of solar policies for rural Alameda County be placed on a future Board meeting agenda.

The Board of Supervisors should consider setting a clear timeline on completing a solar policy and processing projects currently under review on a schedule that would allow for completed rural solar policies to apply to the projects.

We hope our request will create a path forward that boosts renewable energy while protecting the natural environment and avoiding conflict.
4 Steps You Can Take Today To Help Save North Livermore 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. Together, we can save our valley! Here is how:

  • Send an email message to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. Let them know that saving North Livermore Valley is important to you and request that they complete a solar policy for rural areas of the County before approving any new solar power plants on agricultural land. Email addresses for the Supervisors and suggested talking points are on our website here.

  • Forward this newsletter to your friends and neighbors. Let them know the future of North Livermore Valley is at risk. They can also sign up to receive the newsletter.

  • Help raise community awareness of what's at stake by submitting a letter to your local paper. For Livermore Valley residents, send a letter to the Livermore Independent at this link.
North Livermore Valley is Productive Agricultural Land

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 growing of dry hay and oats. In the winter and early spring, the valley turns to a luscious green, then is golden brown for the remainder of the year.

Some of the proponents of the solar power plants for North Livermore Valley, however, assert the land is unproductive. This claim is false.
First, cattle and horses obviously need food to survive. Oat hay and wheat hay are grown throughout the year in North Livermore Valley to feed these animals. Horses “love oat hay because there is surprise in almost every bite,” states horse expert Julie Goodnight.

The photos above and below from North Livermore Valley show the harvesting of hay and oat hay. The photo below was taken in June 2020.
Second, portions of the valley are used for intensive crop production. Many valley residents and visitors will tell you the best strawberries they ever ate were grown and sold at the Stanley farm on North Livermore Avenue (where the photo of the strawberry stand was taken).
A section of the Stanley farm is slated to used by Intersect Power for its massive Aramis Solar Power Plant.

Third, our agricultural land plays an important role in serving as both a habitat and a migration corridor for threatened species and other wildlife in the valley. Our ranches and farms help maintain the biodiversity of the nearby Doolan Canyon, Eagle Ridge, Ceyetano Creek and Livermore Valley preserves that are safeguarded from development under conservation easements.

The East Alameda County Conservation Strategy identified nine focal species that inhabit and/or migrate across cropland where the solar plants are proposed. These 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.
Finally, a point often overlooked by the proponents of solar power is that constructing industrial solar power plants on agricultural land results in the permanent loss of the climate change benefit provided by the crops grown on the land.

Remember your elementary school science class: plants remove carbon dioxide naturally from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis.
Community Voices In Support of Saving Our Valley
"Originating from Livermore and now residing in North Livermore, we have always appreciated the serenity and natural beauty of the north end of our valley. It is a quick hop from the bustle on the south side of Highway 580 to the picturesque and peaceful landscape of North Livermore. The wildlife, birds, trees, grasses, cattle, sunrises and sunsets, as well as night sky are unique to North Livermore Valley. We feel it is imperative that the precious legacy of North Livermore Valley open space be preserved for our Bay Area neighbors, as well as future generations."

- Sue and Steve Springer, members of Save North Livermore Valley
"The North Livermore Valley is where my wife and I raised our family. We love the scenic beauty and are committed to preserving it for future generations. . .

We along with our neighbors recognize the threat of climate change and support solar power. We also recognize that the preservation of open space and agricultural land is in harmony with safeguarding the environment.

The North Livermore Valley provides an important habitat for multiple threatened species. For more than 100 years it has been farmed for the production of hay and the raising of cattle. Today, the valley is not only used for agriculture, but is a beautiful scenic area enjoyed by many Livermore area residents and persons from far beyond."

"North Livermore is outside the urban growth boundary. It is zoned for agriculture. How is it possible that this beautiful area can be seriously considered for a massive industrial complex under the guise of an environmentally sensitive project?

. . . If this were anything but a solar energy project, it would be dismissed immediately. It should be dismissed immediately as the large industrial use that it is. The project certainly would not be approved in this location if it were a gas-powered electrical generating plant like we see along the Sacramento River near Antioch and at Moss Landing."

Livermore Independent Editorial
“Developing massive regions with a ‘sea of glass,’ as many have called the proposal, is a short-sighted response to meeting California’s energy goals. Let’s continue exploring alternatives for implementing solar in the Tri-Valley, because it doesn’t make sense to destroy the environment to protect it.” 

— “Utility-Scale Solar Isn’t Answer for North Livermore Valley,” Editorial, Livermore Independent, August 5, 2020 
The Beauty of Our Valley
Just a short drive or bike ride from the City of Livermore and north of Highway 580, the North Livermore Valley has been zoned for agricultural and rural residential uses since the 1950s.

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. 

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, however, would cause permanent, unnecessary and destructive change. 

About Save North Livermore Valley

We started as a group of farm and ranch families and other members of the North Livermore Valley Rural Community. We have been joined by over 175 concerned residents in the City of Livermore and Tri-Valley area united for the purpose of preserving the open space, agricultural land and wildlife habitat of North Livermore Valley for future generations.