Bay Nature magazineFall 2011


Big Solar Coming to East Bay?

October 1, 2011

Things are heating up as solar companies plan for large-scale photovoltaic arrays in rural Alameda County, which would feed power into the grid for customers of Pacific Gas and Electric. Three projects on the table range in size from 150 to 1,000 acres. With increased interest in solar and state mandates for renewable energy, the county’s Board of Supervisors has asked staff to draft a policy to help steer decisions on where to put the arrays. As this issue went to press, the supervisors were scheduled to look at the policy draft on September 13. “We have facilities that are knocking at our door, and we don’t want to put out the closed-for-business sign,” says Albert Lopez, the county’s planning director. “The state is grappling with the same issue. How do you approve 1,000 acres of anything?”

Conservationists and agriculture proponents say not so fast. They are concerned that the proposed locations for the arrays are on prime farmland and in areas with sensitive plant communities. Two of the proposed projects would land near the Altamont Pass, in the Mountain House area, where vernal pools, alkaline grasslands, and valley sink scrub make this one of the California Native Plant Society East Bay Chapter‘s Botanical Priority Protection Areas.

“Renewable energy projects look great in the media,” says the group’s conservation analyst, Mack Casterman. “People hear the word ‘green’ and think that all environmental concerns are addressed. Just because it’s renewable doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment overall.” The nearby Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area is a case in point: While it has generated a significant amount of greenhouse-gas-free energy, it has also been a graveyard for thousands of raptors, killed by the rotating windmill blades–an unknown impact when wind policies were being established. “We don’t want the same thing to happen with solar,” says Casterman, “when 20 to 30 years down the line, we say we should have done things differently.”

NOTE: Public meetings are now scheduled for October 3 and 11:
Board of Supervisors Transportation and Planning Committee 10/3/11, 9 AM – County Administration Building, 1221 Oak Street, 5th Floor, Board of Supervisors Chambers,Oakland
Board of Supervisors (continued from the 9/13/11 Board of Supervisors meeting) 10/11/11, 1 PM – County Administration Building,1221 Oak Street, 5th Floor, Board of Supervisors Chambers, Oakland

For more information, contact Liz McElligott of the Alameda County Planning Department at (510)670-5400 or e-mail at

About the Author

Writer Aleta George trained as a Jepson Prairie docent in 2009. In addition to writing Bay Nature's Ear to the Ground column, she has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, and the Los Angeles Times.

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