This undated print from our files shows the construction of the electric power plant in Morro Bay.
The towering smoke stacks are 450 feet tall.
According to HeritageShared.org construction on the first electric power generating unit in Morro Bay began in October 1953. California’s population was booming in the post World War II era and a former Navy training facility was converted to peacetime uses. Over the next decade the plant grew to four units with three 450 tall smoke stacks. (Two units share a smoke stack.) As an aesthetic consideration the outside of the plant was covered with metal sheeting, unlike the more industrial Moss Landing plant.
Monday May 15, 1961
Largest Steam CondenserFinished for Morro Bay
SUNNYVALE, Calif. — The largest steam condenser ever built at the Westinghouse Sunnyvale manufacturing division is shown here before shipment to Pacific Gas & Electric company’s Morro Bay electric generating plant. The apparatus is 24 feet high, 28 feet wide and 48 feet long. Insertion at the site of 10,342 aluminum brass tubes will bring the weight of the condenser and accessories to almost 1,000,000 pounds.In operation, 8,820,000 gallons of Pacific ocean water flowing through the 94 miles of tubing will cool and condense 1,420,000 pounds of spent steam an hour. The water resulting will be converted into steam again in a boiler to spin the rotors of a Westinghouse 330,000 kilowatt turbine generator.Workmen will separate the condenser into nine parts and load it at Sunnyvale aboard eight Southern Pacific railroad flatcars for Santa Margarita where it will be trucked the remaining 25 miles to Morro Bay.
The plant was a technological marvel when designed but today almost 60 years have passed.Tribune environment reporter David Sneed has covered many of the proposals for the site and offers these observations:
The future of the Morro Bay power plant is very uncertain. The antiquated plant is inefficient and operates at a fraction of historic levels. This bad news for Morro Bay because the city collects taxes based on the amount of natural gas the plant uses.
The owners of the plant have contracts to keep it operating at low levels for the next couple of years. After that, it will have to be rebuilt if it is to keep operating, a project that is expected to cost about $1 billion.
The fate of the plant is uncertain because the state is concentrating on renewable, non-greenhouse-gas-emitting power, such as the three solar plants proposed for the Carrizo Plain. Also, the plant’s once-through cooling system is damaging to the ocean environment and is unpopular with state regulators.
The plant can’t stay in its current form and the city of Morro Bay needs to plan for the future.
Environmental groups have floated a lot of wonderful dream ideas for the site (aquarium, performing arts center, park) without funding sources. Regulators balk at approving a new project with consequences to air and water quality. Power generators have the money to decommission the old plant but won’t commit unless they see a profit.
After decades of being in the same hands, deregulation has led to the site to changing owners every few years.
Here is an idea. As we can see from this article, a plant like this has a working life about as long as a human life.
Could we approve a new facility that has sunset clause with funding built in?
The utility owner would be responsible for paying a bond each year that would be applied to building what the community wanted (aquarium, theater, natural history museum, revolving restaurant atop the smoke stacks). Fail to pay, forfeit the concession.The utility owner would also be responsible for paying into an environmental mitigation fund that would offset the damage the plant generated and to decommission the site to clean bare ground at the time of sunset.
A few years back one of our reporters wrote a story about the Los Osos Chamber of Commerce. They had produced a brochure that pasted a photo over one of their major sponsors, PG&E. The full page picture of Morro Bay, sandspit and Rock had an inset photo of a seagull pasted over the place where the power plant’s smoke stacks stood.Idon’t blame them,
I’d like to see the smoke stacks removed in my lifetime.
The community needs to set a goal and come up with a way to get there from here.