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Jul 06

Morro Bay Power Plant construction

Building the Morro Bay Power Plant, moving heavy stuff, General Electric Stator

POWER PLANT'S HEAVIEST PART...A huge generator stator, weighing nearly one-half million pounds, was brought out from General Electric's Schenectady, N.Y. plant on a special rail car to a Camp San Luis Obispo railroad siding. From there it was moved nine miles to the PG&E power plant in Morro Bay. ©The Tribune

California has seen population growth on a scale not experienced by other states for most of its existence. Only recently have the growth numbers flattened.
In the 1950s the growth trend line was accelerating as the baby boom was added to immigration into the Golden State. Not only were the raw numbers expanding but there was an explosion of electric powered comfort and labor saving devices that had been unavailable to a generation before. Clothes dryers, air conditioners, televisions, and dozens of other appliances all became an expected part of the landscape of a modern home.
Electric power was not just for light-bulbs anymore.
Utility companies strained to keep ahead of the curve.
For two decades, the 50s and 60s growth was fast and furious, World War II had infused a generation with a “Can do” attitude. Environmental concerns had not yet become a major factor.
At one point the idea was floated that the state would build a nuclear power plant in Cayucos.
The Telegram-Tribune took an excited tone on the eve of the Morro Bay power plant‘s dedication.
With well paying jobs to construct and operate the plant, a tax base that allowed Morro Bay to become a city and made San Luis Coastal a relatively wealthy school district, what was not to like.
According to the Heritage Shared website construction began on the first unit at Morro Bay in October 1953. The then Telegram-Tribune published a special section July 7, 1955 as the first unit opened. The plant grew to four units with three 450 foot tall smokestacks. (Two units share a smokestack.) As an aesthetic consideration the outside of the plant was sheathed with aluminum unlike the open and more industrial looking Moss Landing plant built about the same time.

General Electric Stator, Highway 1, Camp San Luis Obispo, Hollister Peak

Highway 1 traffic, between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, was detoured for more than a week while workmen tediously laid heavy planks beneath the heavy load and it was inched along toward its destination by Belya Truck company. It is shown here being loaded aboard Belyea's specially-constructed trailer, 89 feet long and 17 1/2 feet wide and which rolled on 82 rubber tires. Planking was required to prevent damage to the highway.

When it was dedicated it was the 4th largest electric producer in the PG&E system and cost $44,000,000. The plant was touted as the largest single industrial investment in the area and when completed the plant was expected to provide enough power to serve the needs of a city the size of San Francisco. A second power unit was scheduled for completion by March 1956. The 140 acre site was purchased from San Luis Obispo county in August 1951 and hundreds of skilled workers drew paychecks in the region. When this section was published there were 350 construction workers on the payroll of builder, Bechtel. PG&E had 55 persons operating the generating plant with the staff expected to grow to between 65 and 70.
Much of the heavy equipment was trucked from the nearest railroad siding at Goldtree on the Southern Pacific railroad line at Camp San Luis Obispo.
The generator buildings cover boiler furnaces that are 14 stories tall.
The work force brought families and a new junior high school was already in the planning stages for students that were then being bussed to San Luis Obispo.

The plant, now owned by Dynegy, operates at a fraction of historic levels. What was high tech in the mid-1950s is less and less economical compared to other facilities. In addition the cooling system has run afoul of regulators protecting fish and crab larvae and the facility is approaching a regulatory crossroads. David Sneed will have a story in Sunday’s Tribune.

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