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

May 12, 2024

Artist rendition of proposed Morro Bay battery storage project

OPINION by GAIL JOHNSON

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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Perfect place for the ESS facility. 500 kV lines in place connected to the Pacific Inter-tie running up the entire West Coast of the US. Solar and wind do you little good without storage.


292 operating ocean windfarms worldwide, maybe this might be an idea that has potential.


As of 2023, the total global capacity reached 59,009 MW from 292 operating projects and over 11,900 operating wind turbines.


If you think that PG&E is going to allow the Diablo Canyon lines to be tied into for BESS, think again, better educate yourself on Diablo Canyon’s grid operations and a no-touch position by PG&E, CAISO, and NRC. Transmission work would definitely be required. Enter the CA Coastal Commission and their vice grip on any such physical work.


Class begins. If Coastal Commission allows a BESS at Morro Bay then farther inland at Diablo is a non-issue. A flat piece of land at Diablo is certainly an issue. Morro Bay-Diablo & MB-Mesa 230kv lines are 1113Al conductor rated at 1000 amps or 500MWs each. So, N minus 1 contingency planning means a 500MW BESS can be attached at Diablo on the 230kv. Each 500kv line is double bundled 2300Al or 2800 amps at 2fps wind. A BESS at Diablo would keep the 3cper unit diesel generators from running much during a grid collapse. It’s unlikely the BESS would allow starting circulating water pumps at the intake, but one or more reactor coolant pumps could be run for a couple days on a full 2000MW/hrs BESS charge minimizing Rx natural circulation operation. Xenon and Sumarium buildup 24hrs after Rx trip would hamper restart until the grid is restored on day 2 or 3. Aren’t you aware the CAISO has been evaluating for the last 4 years an undersea DC cable from Diablo 500kv to the LA area to relieve path 26? You just got free education from the last operating supervisor for the Diablo and Moss jurisdictions before they were moved to the Vacaville GCC. Humbled yet?


This sort of opposition was precisely why big oil in the last century tended to gravitate toward low income minority areas, such as Lost Hills and Kettleman City in the valley, Compton in the south and Richmond, near Oakland, in the north for their refineries and other dirty energy facilities. They knew they would get very little opposition from those folks and were able to pollute as they saw fit.


Unfortunately for nimby Morro Bay dwellers, those days are over. At least a battery storage facility does not cause the top of pollution that we endured during the rise of big oil.


Huh? You don’t think the oil and gas exploration has something to do with all of the organic matter that perished in those areas millions of years ago? I guess all those dinosaurs decided to die in areas where “little opposition” would exist.


It’s always a red flag when one claims to be advocating for the collective over the rights of a private property owner. If Vestra goes through the proper processes to get zoning variances and other approvals they should be able to develop the site. I hate to put power in the hands of the collective to decide. We democratically elect representatives to do this. If you disagree with their decisions, vote them out.


So, if a company goes through the proper process, gets approval, and re-fires the power plant using oil, that’s OK with you?


Yes, it certainly is. Do you want to sit in the dark? Nobody wants power plants of any kind built but they want lights, EVs and more. Where does the power come from. The site was a power plant for decades. Locals are delirious with romantic feelings for the stack. Those are eyesores. I don’t believe in the efficiency of wind power but, hey, if that’s what we can get I’ll take it. I’m a true believer in the use of nuclear power. Building more of those plants would solve many of our long term electrical problems.


While I 100% agree with you on nuke plants, saying if they get the boxes checked, it must be OK to override the concerns of those who would be most directly affected.


There are myriad places to build this battery pack, nearly all are next to the existing Morro Bay lines that extend to the main grid in the San Joaquin valley.


It needs no water to keep cool. It needs no fuel transport. It needs no tourist traffic. It needs no heavy traffic roads after construction.


But it does need a location that, should catastrophe occur, minimizes or eliminates any danger at all to a nearby population, very sensitive environs, very sensitive ocean environs, and very sensitive animal environs.


Build it next to the Topaz plant in the Cal Valley. That solar plant has already disrupted nature, adding the batteries would do no further harm.


“battery storage … is potentially hazardous” How so?

Want to know how to kill the project at this site? Rezone the property to high density housing and tourist related uses, like 15 story. Money wins in real estate.

Nothing wrong with being a NIMBY.


Okay. Message understood. Now put money where your comments are. Locate funding corporations and find other appropriate land for the BESS site. Why not approach PG&E to obtain some of their land around Diablo Canyon to place BESS. But, a KEY element in this project is locating it near transmission facilities, which the Morro Bay site perfectly provides. If BESS were to be located near Diablo Canyon, transmission lines would need to be constructed since the transmission lines that are there now are solely for Diablo Canyon operation. In other words, it time to put on your “Thinking Cap” and “Think Outside the Box” in proposing other locations that would be workable. If not, the Morro Bay site seems to be the best option that has been presented at this time. Why not schedule a public meeting and invite real estate companies and investors to brainstorm possible locations. “Be Bold, or Go Home”.


All the opposed actually “know” is that they “don’t like it”. Mostly too uneducated and uninformed to even be commenting yet they’re the loudest voice in the room. In today’s society that(feelings) means more than the actual facts. Sad, really, as this project would benefit them as a whole.


You are incorrect in stating the lines at Diablo are solely for Diablo Canyon operation. There are 8 lines. Two Dcpp 500kv unit taps and a Dcpp 230kv startup tap are for Dcpp. Then there’, two 230kv lines that are part of the southern 230kv loop which feed 2/3 of the area’s load and startup for Dcpp. More importantly there are three 500kv lines through Diablo’s 500kv switchyard that comprise Path 15 (i.e. the Intertie) for north to south flow.

BTW, no new transmission lines would have to be built at Diablo. Another incorrect statement. Move 3/4 which is all of the 230kv equipment from Morro Bay to Santa Margarita. Leave the 115kv & 12kv alone. You end up with only 2-115kv lines crossing HWY1. Then at the top of Radcliffe connections from the Santa Margarita 230kv (utilizing the former MB-Solar 1&2 lines) can be made to the before mentioned southern 230kv loop. The BESS can be built is a ton off Different places like Santa Margarita, Templeton or Nipomo and have the same voltage control as Morro Bay. Does that blow your box up?


Leroy,

Please inform the ill educated that the real purpose of DCPP provides power for the Greatest generator on the planet.

I can’t tell them better than you.

Hint,

It’s in the mountains.


What a great piece of writing, Gail.

With a little bit more Engineering, BESS can be tied into the Grid anywhere.