The land is not fertile—crops are largely limited to winter wheat and there’s no availability of imported surface water so irrigation is limited to wells.
When the city and the county established urban growth boundaries that could not be changed significantly without the approval of the voters you would have thought the battles were over.
The latest struggle involves an industrial-sized solar power project at the corner of North Livermore Avenue (the main artery) and Manning Road. The plan covers 350 acres (down from the original 450 acres) and won the approval of the East County Board of Zoning Adjustment. That approval has been appealed by both the Aramis project applicants, Intersect Power, and project opponents. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear the appeals Feb. 18.
The Aramis proponents have designed what they believe to be an eco-friendly project. It will be surrounded by a landscaped berm with drought-resistant plants. The solar panels that will move to get the optimum sun angle will be at least six feet apart and the underlying ground will be planted in a ground cover and mowed so rodents and other animals can roam freely. The perimeter fence will be raised 6 inches so animals have easy access to the site. The photovoltaic solar panels will be mounted on posts driven directly into the soil.
Marisa Mitchell, an environmental scientist by training and an Intersect principal, said studies have show that raptors hunt prey more in facilities like this than they do in open fields (the panels cover less than half of the land). She said in other installations kit foxes have found the habitat ideal for their burrows.
The 100 megawatts of solar power, backed by battery storage, will generate enough electricity to supply 25,000 homes annually. The battery component allows the power to be used when the peak demand comes after dark. The company has arranged to sell the power to East Bay clean power providers.
The project is being opposed by Save North Livermore Valley, a group represented by attorney Robert Selna. Signs have been posted along North Livermore Avenue.
Mitchell pointed out how difficult it is to find industrial solar sites in the nine Bay Area counties, describing it as trying to find a needle in the haystack. The Aramis site is ideal because the Cayetano Creek PG&E substation is right there so the firm does not have to build expensive infrastructure to connect the project to the electrical grid. She described the site as ideal because of the substation, the lack of neighbors and the surrounding pastureland.
To build support, Intersect already has signed a project labor agreement so the 400 construction jobs will be all union. It also has committed to buying project materials locally.
Intersect has lined up some well-known environmental groups in support of the project such as the Audubon Society, the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club as well as several other East Bay cities. The Audubon letter in support was signed by representations of the California, national and Mt. Diablo organizations. I received an email from Bill Hoppes of the Ohlone Audubon stating their group had not taken a position. Groups backing the project include the Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Innovation Tri-Valley Leadership Group and the East Bay Leadership Council.
If built, the project will contribute about $200,000 more in property taxes annually.
This isn’t the first time renewable energy projects have faced opposition. Think back to the early windmills in the Altamont Pass. Ranchers, who were running cattle, welcomed a second revenue stream and renewable energy proponents loved them. Wildlife groups strongly opposed them because they killed raptors such as hawks and Golden Eagles. The Altamont grasslands are ideal foraging for raptors. The second generation of huge windmills has lessened that impact, but the concern and conflict remain.