Survey on Power Plant Master Plan

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 9, 2023

Morro Bay’s past is a key to its future and the City wants residents’ opinions on what should be done with the Morro Bay Power Plant property.

The Morro Bay Power Plant was built in the late 1950s and early 1960s and was a key part of California’s energy grid for over 50 years. For most of that time it was owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which built the plant, and has changed hands several times sine Duke Energy North America bought it in 1999, along with three other PG&E gas-fired plants — Moss Landing, Pittsburgh, and Oakland.

The Morro Bay plant property is about 117 acres, but the City Master Plan is looking at roughly 95-acres — minus a 22-acre former tank farm site, where Vistra proposes to build a Battery Energy Storage System or BESS — and the City’s survey divvies it up into four main areas.

The first is called the “Embarcadero corridor” the area along Embarcadero that includes a strip of cypress tree-lined land between the roadway and the plant’s sound wall, as well as the former intake building and parking lot. There are also two small lots that are underwater in the bay.

Second is the site of the 165-foot tall powerhouse with its three, 450-foot tall smokestacks. 

Third is an undeveloped area of hillside below Surf Street; and the fourth area is the heavily forested Morro Creek corridor and Lila Keiser Park, which Vistra owns but leases to the City.

“The Master Plan,” the City said in a news release, “will establish a vision and plan for growth and development of the Power Plant site and surrounding area. The survey focuses on land use preferences, circulation improvements, and design amenities.”

Deadline to take the survey is Friday, Feb. 17. It can be found on the City website: www.morrobayca.gov under ‘Hot Topics’ for a direct link.

What can be done with arguably the most desirable portion of the plant — roughly 14 acres where the powerhouse and stacks sit — is hampered by a deed restriction that PG&E placed on the site when they first sold it to Duke. 

In investigations by the State Department of Toxic Substance Control, as part of the plant’s closure, the plant property was given a generally clean bill of health, with the exception of the powerhouse site.

DTSC has said there may or may not be pollutants underneath that area, but it can’t be determined definitely until the building and stacks are removed.

Vistra has pledged to remove the powerhouse and stacks by 2028 or pay the City $3 million cash.

PG&E’s deed restriction on the site limits future uses to “industrial.” So if a new owner wanted to do something more with the property they would become responsible for any clean up that is called for by the DTSC.

But there may not be pollutants under the powerhouse building. Indeed DTSC found little pollutants at the other areas it surveyed and tested, including the former fuel oil tank farm, which is where Vistra wants to build its battery storage facility.

The other place they found traces of pollutants was at a former chemical retention and cooling pond, used to temporarily hold caustic chemicals that were used to clean the plant’s boilers.

For more information on the Master Plan and the BESS Project, see: www.morrobayca.gov/bess.

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