The proposal to develop a 410-acre, utility-scale solar power plant north of Livermore were approved last week by the East County Board of Zoning Adjustments, but opponents of the project said they plan to appeal the decision to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.
Approved during the zoning board's regular meeting on Nov. 24, the Aramis solar project by Intersect Power will develop an estimated total of 580 acres of land, of which 410 acres will contain solar arrays and support facilities.
A collection of local residents opposed to the project have issued a statement declaring their intent to appeal the project's approval, citing primarily environmental and zoning concerns. However, Intersect Power officials have expressed confidence in the project's benefits to the region.
"The project speaks for itself," Marisa Mitchell, a principal at Intersect Power, told the Weekly. "The (environmental impact report) carried out by Alameda County was conducted independently by experts, and I think both the final EIR's disclosure of the project's very low impacts combined with the clear benefits that the project brings to the community really speak for themselves."
"I think the Board of Supervisors will recognize these things and reaffirm the wisdom of the Board of Zoning Adjustments and planning staff," she added.
Located roughly two miles north of the Livermore city limits and Interstate 580 in unincorporated Alameda County, the project is divided into four parcels, with the largest being located south of Manning Road and extending west of North Livermore Avenue by approximately one mile.
County officials said that in addition to creating up to 400 living-wage, all-union construction jobs and up to four permanent jobs, the project would assist the state in meeting renewable energy generation goals under Senate Bill 100 -- which requires renewable energy and zero-carbon resources to supply 100% of electric retail sales to customers by the year 2045.
"The county finds that the project, with all the mitigation measures proposed, would best balance the advancement of solar technology and renewable energy, while also reducing the significant and unavoidable impacts on aesthetics and land use and planning to the lowest level practicable," county planning staff members said in a report to the zoning board.
Despite the zoning board approval, project opponents said they take issue with perceived environmental concerns that arise from the project as well as with Alameda County officials lacking a comprehensive plan for how to expand renewable energy in rural areas.
"Alameda County wishes to expand renewable energy in its effort to fight climate change. We support this goal. We also know the ends do not justify the means. The Aramis project egregiously violates Measure D and the county zoning code. And, the desire by county staff to support renewables has clouded their judgment," said Chris O'Brien, chair of Save North Livermore Valley, a coalition of residents opposed to the project.
"The county has not undertaken work essential to achieving its climate change goals. The county lacks both a comprehensive solar policy and a map of locations suitable for solar facilities that pose the least conflict with open space, wildlife habitat, agricultural land and scenic corridors," he added. "The Aramis plant will destroy the habitat for numerous threatened and special status species. We are confident that the Board of Supervisors will carefully review the evidentiary record and come to the same conclusion."
Project proponents have generally expressed optimism about the appeal process, citing the recent county approval, the project's contribution to renewable energy and its diverse base of support as indicators of its value. They further contend that the opponents issues generally don't hold water.
"The county has repeatedly found that solar is a compatible use on large parcel agriculture, which is the way that this site is zoned, and the EIR is clear that the agricultural and habitat values of this particular site is very low," Mitchell said.
"Support for this project is not limited to a small group of stakeholders, and I think you'll find that, when you review the record, the range of supporters for this project really is completely diverse. From young people to old people to Spanish-speaking people, people who are business owners, people who are just concerned citizens, there is a really interesting range of diversity of voices and I don't think that one can say the same thing for the opposition's side," Mitchell added.
Opponents have until 10 days after the project's approval to submit an appeal for review by the Board of Supervisors; as of Tuesday afternoon, an appeal has not been filed.