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Morro Bay residents voice questions, concerns about battery storage proposal

Posted at 10:31 PM, Nov 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-17 02:37:22-05

Morro Bay residents are raising concerns about plans to build an expansive battery storage facility in the heart of town.

A sizeable crowd came out to voice their opposition to the proposal while others wanted to find out more about the project.

The Morro Bay Power Plant and its smokestacks are one of the first things that come to mind when you think of Morro Bay.

A Texas-based energy company now wants to tear down the power plant and replace it with a 600 mega-watt battery storage facility. It would be the largest facility of its kind in the world.

“I’m undecided. I’m not 100% sure how I feel about it,” said Morro Bay resident Anne Steinhauer.

Vistra held the latest in a series of informational meetings about the project on Wednesday evening.

Some say they have concerns but aren’t necessarily against building the plant.

“I think we need to create more ways to store energy. I’m not thrilled with rolling blackouts or brownouts, but I also have some questions about the technology and making sure that it’s safe for this community,” said Steinhauer.

Others are raising concerns about the location right in the heart of town along the Embarcadero, and close to a national estuary, schools, and businesses.

“Lithium is very, very explosive and the technology is very new and there really hasn’t been a battery plant built that hasn’t had some type of problem,” said Morro Bay resident Rachel Wilson.

“Most battery plants now in California are being put out in the middle of nowhere. So, if they have a problem, they aren’t actually going to affect the citizens, “she added.

Others are raising concerns about a fire at a similar plant in Monterey County that forced the town of Moss Landing to shelter in place for an entire day.

“We don’t think that would be a good idea in Morro Bay to lock the kids in the school and chase all the tourists away,” said Morro Bay resident Barry Branin while talking about the fire at the Moss Landing plant.

Community members also brought up concerns about the damage a catastrophe could cause to the estuary.

“This one, in particular, is one of the very last healthy national estuaries in the United States,” said Morro Bay resident Mandy Davis.

“The problem with this particular thing is when it works fine until it doesn’t, it’s a disaster. It's not a broken car, it’s a broken town and a broken ecosystem,” adds Morro Bay resident Steven MacGregor.

A Vistra spokesperson says that lithium-ion technology is safe, and is helping to keep the lights in California.

“During the heatwave in September, up to 7 percent of the energy on the California grid came from batteries and they are performing superbly and safely,” said Vistra Community Affairs Director Brad Watson, who says the infrastructure is already in Morro Bay to quickly build up storage for solar and wind power.

“What battery storage does is get that energy that is generated by solar and wind during the day when it’s in an overabundance and then saves it until later in the day when the sun goes down, the wind pauses then the batteries kick in.”

The process is far from over and more public meetings will be held in the future.

Sistra says that construction could create 100 to 300 jobs.

The facility would employ around 15 people once completed.