In 2011, the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (EBCNPS) called on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to complete a solar policy for the entire county. The EBCNPS explained that the lack of a solar policy "would increase the probability that poorly planned, environmentally damaging projects" would be approved.
Staff assured the Board of Supervisors that a plan would be developed, but recommended that the Board approve the solar project that was pending before it. The Board agreed.
Staff never presented to the Board of Supervisors a policy covering where utility-scale solar projects, if any, should be built in rural Alameda County.
The photo on the left shows today a "solar farm" the County approved in 2011. The warning issued by the EBCNPS that without a solar policy Alameda County risked approving projects that could damage the environment sadly has proven accurate.
Alameda County should not make the same mistake twice.
Before the County reviews any further individual utility-scale solar projects on agricultural land, it should establish clear rules for the appropriate siting, scale and operations of solar power plants. This would ultimately save the public and the County time, energy and money and create certainty for all parties.
The Tri-Valley Conservancy, Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee and City of Livermore have adopted the same position. The Tri-Valley Conservancy 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."
"A solar policy for the whole County will move us away from scrutinizing these projects on a case-by-case basis and identify land that can be a prime opportunity for the development of local renewable energy resources while mitigating or eliminating environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act. While it is unfortunate that the solar policy has been in limbo for years, we strongly urge the County to prioritize this matter."
In 2010, Santa Clara County adopted a policy for solar facilities on agricultural land. Earlier this year Contra Costa County, after studying how to expand renewable energy countywide, adopted a solar ordinance that permits large-scale solar facilities on rural land in a limited portion of the County.
There is no reason why Alameda County can not complete its comprehensive solar policy. Otherwise, by failing to plan, the County is planning to fail.