Though you may have thought you’d never live to see it, it appears that Morro Bay’s iconic trio of smokestacks will disappear, after the City Council voted 4-1 to tell the plant owners to take them down along with the massive power plant building.
Vistra Energy and the City earlier this year signed an agreement that settled an eminent domain lawsuit the City filed to gain easements over the property for its Water Reclamation Facility (WRF) project now under construction.
The City agreed to pay $200,000 for the easements that will see a pipeline run from the Embarcadero to Main Street and another pipeline from Main to the northeast corner of the property where the City plans to install injection wells to recycle its wastewater.
Also as part of that memorandum of understanding (MOU) was a pledge by Vistra to tear down the 1950s-era power generation building, which stands 165-feet tall, and the trio of stacks.
It did however, give the City an option to leave the landmark stacks up, if the City Council wanted to, setting a deadline for the end of 2022 to decide. But the City would have to take over all maintenance and liability costs, as well as any future costs to tear them down, which was estimated to be upwards of $5 million.
In return, the City agreed to give Vistra’s application for a 600-megawatt Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) on 22 acres of the plant property, on a site that used to have large oil storage tanks, a fair hearing.
That project would become the largest BESS in the world and would be double the size of the current standard holder, Vistra’s 300 MW BESS at the Moss Landing Power Plant.
Now Vistra will have until 2028 to complete removal of the power plant and stacks, or pay the City $3 million.
The success of the BESS project isn’t directly tied to the plant/stacks removal. The Morro Bay BESS has yet to make it to a public review, and has a long road ahead of it.
City Manager Scott Collins said the Council also voted to have some sort of a memorial built commemorating the stacks and the over 60 years that they towered over the waterfront.
Councilman Jeff Heller was the lone dissenter, holding out hope that someone would come along and repurpose what — at 450 feet — are the tallest manmade structures in SLO County.
Taking down the stacks promises to be quite a monumental job, as two of them, built in the early 1960s, are reinforced and poured concrete, 15-feet thick at the base. Those will be cut into segments and lowered to the ground. The northern-most and original stack is a chimney lined with bricks.
The stacks are 45-feet in diameter at the base, tapering to about 17-feet in diameter at the top.
Various schemes have been floated about including turning the stacks into observation towers with a interior elevator, to a platform for base jumping or bungee diving, to turning the outer walls into a rock climbing course.
Watching them come down promises to be quite the sight and Morro Bay’s waterfront skyline will be changed dramatically.