Sunwalker Energy has withdrawn its application with Alameda County for a conditional use permit to develop a solar energy project in northern Livermore.
The project was under appeal and set to return to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors on June 3, following the supervisors' request for more information on the developer's agricultural management plan. In light of the company's withdrawal, there will be no further review of the project.
Looming legal and policy issues, the difficulty of maintaining investor interest in the project along with the time and additional resources that would be needed to fulfill the supervisors' request without a clear outcome for the project, were among the reasons for Sunwalker's decision, according to county planning staff.
Sunwalker was the smaller of two solar energy projects planned for North Livermore. The 410-acre Aramis project, proposed by Intersect Power, was approved by the Board of Supervisors following appeal hearings earlier this year but has been challenged in court by some of the same citizen groups who opposed the Sunwalker project.
County planning staff said one of the key differentiating factors between the two projects is that the Sunwalker site is under Williamson Act contract, which has additional restrictions on development, including for solar electric power generation.
Supervisor David Haubert, who represents District 1 which includes the area of both project sites, said he was unsatisfied with the agricultural management plan proposed by Sunwalker, arguing it failed to include legitimate agricultural uses in its plan such as grazing and food production, like the Aramis project does. "They also did not have a viable ongoing maintenance plan with a local conservancy such as Tri-Valley Conservancy," he said.
The Board of Supervisors heard four appeals challenging Sunwalker's 59-acre, six-megawatt solar energy facility at its April 22 meeting before deciding to delay its deliberations. Appellants Save North Livermore Valley, Friends of Open Space and Vineyards, Friends of Livermore and residents John and Jackie Bowles raised concerns that the project would destroy the natural environment and violate the county's Measure D, which aims to preserve agricultural land and open space in eastern Alameda County.
Save North Livermore Valley, Friends of Open Space and Vineyards and Friends of Livermore expressed the same concerns about the Aramis facility and all three groups, along with the Ohlone Audubon Society, filed suit against the county last month in an effort to halt the project.
Chris O'Brien, chair of the Save North Livermore Valley steering committee, told the Weekly in an email that his group is "very happy" about Sunwalker withdrawing its application and believes that their efforts in opposing the project played a role in the decision.
"Now, we are hopeful the Aramis developer might think hard about continuing with their plans. We are hopeful our lawsuit will prove the county approved the project illegally in terms of state zoning laws and the will of the voters with the passage of Measure D," he said.