Morro Bay’s Embarcadero is not suitable for a battery storage facility

May 12, 2024

Artist rendition of proposed Morro Bay battery storage project


An open letter to my neighbors in Morro Bay:

You have accused me of being a NIMBY, which I do not deny. However, many sound planning decisions started with people like me.

I’ll start by telling you a story about my experience being peripherally involved in the homeless shelter controversy in San Luis Obispo, way back in 2017. The shelter was planned for a parcel of land next to the Social Services building on South Higuera. Why? Because the city already owned the land.

The proposed project was too large for the property, would outgrow its usefulness in just a few years, could not support the many services that the homeless would need, was located under a airline flight path, and the neighbors were adamantly opposed. But the city already owned the land. They were determined.

Bill Thoma had the outlandish idea that “they” could buy the big piece of property just south of the Sunset Drive-In Theater for the shelter. It was for sale, but the price was far more than the budget would allow.

During the beginning stages of the discussions, most people thought Bill was crazy. But he and other community leaders (Tom Maino, John Spatafore, among others) persisted in creating a vision that the city could do better. Over the course of a couple of years, the 40 Prado Road site was purchased and various city agencies bought in . . . creating a multi-purpose site that now houses the shelter, the city transportation hub and a future on-site homeless parking lot . . . with land left over for additional uses.

The point

The people who devoted their time and talents to the 40 Prado idea were not opposed to the homeless shelter, they simply believed that the shelter was not suited to the original site proposed.

I think the same thing is playing out regarding the battery energy storage system (BESS) proposed on the Embarcadero in Morro Bay.

The location planned for the BESS project is simply not suitable.

Why has the current site been chosen? Because Vistra, the developer, owns the land. It’s that simple.

There is no other “good” reason that the largest BESS project in the world should be located on our Embarcadero, and numerous reasons why it should not. It takes people with vision, creativity and energy to move a project from the “foregone conclusion” to a better site, against all odds, while opposing a billion-dollar Texas energy corporation.

People opposing the BESS project are not against renewal energy. Categorizing us as NIMBY people is a “cheap shot.” It demeans our intentions and our integrity. On the other hand, accepting a bad solution because a person is YES-IMBY is reactionary and possibly misinformed.

Locating BESS on the Embarcadero would require that the zoning be altered and that Morro Bay’s General Plan, adopted in 2021, be ignored or changed. Government agencies, politicians, research groups and renewable energy corporations would like to bypass the local land use obstacles and install BESS on the Vistra site, regardless.

In 2023, signatures were collected for an initiative, not to stop BESS, but to maintain the Land Use Plan that was established by the Morro Bay General Plan. The initiative got hundreds more signatures than necessary to be placed on the Nov. 2024 ballot as Measure A-24.

Simply stated, a yes vote on Measure A-24 will require that uses for the power plant property that do not conform to the existing general plan must be approved by a vote of Morro Bay residents. The proposition is not against anything. It simply gives us the power to control what happens on our Embarcadero. T

here are pro-BESS groups, financed by corporations, that are opposed to citizen activism and to passing Measure A-24. Why? You’ll have to ask them.

BESS facilities require an industrial land use designation because they impose industrial hazards. “Industry” on the Embarcadero does not conform to Morro Bay’s general plan, nor does it agree with the vision set forth by Morro Bay citizens (a majority of our neighbors) as revealed in the survey in Jan. 2023.

Locating BESS on the Embarcadero overlooks the facts that battery storage in populated or environmentally sensitive areas is potentially hazardous . . . to humans, to wildlife, air and water quality, recreation, our fishing industry, tourism and the economic vitality of the Morro Bay community.

Voting yes on A-24 does not necessarily indicate that a person is opposed to renewable energy or battery storage. It does not imply that a person is a NIMBY. It means they want an opportunity to vote to approve or deny any proposed project that requires an exception to the existing land use prescribed by Morro Bay’s certified general plan.

We all know of examples of where a structure, a fence or tree, a road or a business is inappropriately placed – an obvious mistake. To aid sensible planning, municipalities have created rules, codes and laws that regulate land use, usually for the safety and well-being of the citizens. The same is true regarding placing an industrial facility in a location where it is not permitted.

There’s a reason for these laws, and “because they own the property,” is not reason enough to build BESS on our Embarcadero.  There are better uses for these precious 107 acres of coastal land: to protect and preserve it for future generations. And there are far better places for BESS.

Gail Johnson is a lifelong resident of San Luis Obispo County who is working to protect our coastline.


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The same Nimby’s ran off Duke who wanted to upgrade the existing plant, now they’re against batteries:(

Morro Bay with the PG&E plant paying a large percentage of the property taxes allowed the Nimby’s to receive the services they want and need!

The City has and is facing financial difficulties since the power plant shut down.

This new project will bring the much needed tax revenue that the City needs, as well as clean up the existing site!!!

This could be such a win for the citizens of Morro Bay:)