Livermore residents and others are raising concerns and opposition to two solar projects in the planning stages in the city.

Several community members spoke during public comment at the Sept. 22 Alameda County supervisors meeting about the projects in the North Livermore Valley. The SunWalker Energy and Aramis Renewable Energy projects combined would encompass hundreds of acres of what is now agricultural land.

Some commenters want supervisors to pause the project while a solar energy policy is developed for the county, but a pause may have legal consequences.

“We’ll judge it based on its merits,” said Shawn Wilson, chief of staff for Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who does not want to pause the project because of the potential legal consequences for Alameda County.

Legal consequences may arise if supervisors change the rules on the two companies, SunWalker Energy and Intersect Power.

The projects are located near each other, along Livermore Avenue between Manning and May School roads. The Aramis project is 410 acres of developed land and is being planned by Intersect Power. The SunWalker project is the smaller of the two at about 70 acres.

A Draft Environmental Impact Report, which looks at potential environmental consequences of a project, was released on Sept. 18 for the Aramis project. People have 45 days to comment on the report.

Supervisors may not consider project

Wilson said Haggerty, who is stepping off the board in December after 24 years, is not necessarily in favor of it.

The board may not even hear it, Wilson said.

He said board President Richard Valle could put it on the agenda for the Oct. 6 supervisors meeting. Some people who spoke last week asked the board to hear it at some point.

Valle’s office did not immediately confirm whether he will add it to the agenda.

Some of the concerns raised about the projects center around the environment and others around agriculture.

Karen Sweet, who is on the solar subcommittee of the Alameda County Agricultural Advisory Committee, said their concerns are related to agriculture.

She said a solar project like the two being considered is not beneficial for agriculture or an ag-consistent land use.

The area where the projects are being built is an “agricultural area,” not an industrial area, which it would become if the solar panels, which would be ground-mounted, are installed, Sweet said.

The land would be removed from food production for the foreseeable future, she said.

Attorney Robert Selna, representing the group Save North Livermore Valley, said there are flora and fauna native to the area that are thriving and could be affected.

The area is also a rural scenic route, which Selna believes would be impaired if the projects are built.

“There’s aesthetic value to this area,” he said.

An analogy has been drawn between the solar projects and wind turbine projects, but Selna said, “It’s not an accurate analogy.”

One for the road?

Sweet thinks a better place for a solar project might be outside a highway cloverleaf, which she’s seen.

That “seems like an appropriate place,” she said.

Also, according to Sweet, there appears to be a conflict with the Williamson Act, which allows local governments to maintain land for agricultural use.

The final Environmental Impact Report for the SunWalker project is expected Oct. 13. Opposition has been mounted by other groups besides Save North Livermore Valley.

Marisa Mitchell, a principal with Intersect Power, responded to some environmental and agricultural concerns. There are no protected, threatened or endangered species on the land and the project would be set back from the creek in the area, she said.

Intermittent sheep grazing would be part of managing the vegetation and wildfire risk, and the site would be optimized for raptor habitat. Mitchell said raptors thrive at solar project sites.

She thinks the project will improve the site’s biological habitat.

She added that the project would generate enough to power about 25,000 Bay Area homes annually, helping to meet the increased demand for energy during heat waves.

SunWalker Energy did not respond to a request for comment.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.