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Morro Bay smokestacks could go; city approves MOU with Vistra Energy

The City of Morro Bay
Should the three smokestacks stay or go? The City of Morro Bay now has until December 2022 to decide.

The City of Morro Bay now has 18 months to decide the fate of the three smokestacks at the decommissioned power plant in Morro Bay. This comes after the city council voted to enter an agreement with Vistra Corporation at a special meeting Wednesday.

In Morro Bay there are two iconic fixtures: the nearly 600-foot mountain of volcanic rock, and the three 450-feet-high power plant smokestacks across from it.

“The stacks have what some would say have historical value," City Manager Scott Collins said. "And what others would say has the opposite.”

The council unanimously voted to enter an agreement with Vistra Corporation that provides a pathway to remove the smokestacks.

Collins said under the agreement, Vistra will need to tear down the turbine building — and stacks, if the city desires — by the end of 2028. If not, the city will receive $3 million, free and clear.

Resident Jane Heath expressed concerns over the deal, since it’ll cost the corporation much more than $3 million to demolish the stacks. 

“Since the cost to demolish and clean the site is estimated over $50 million," Heath said, "it seems there is insufficient incentive for the owner to actually do that work, rather than just wait out the timeline and make the payment.”

Vistra has stated their interest in tearing down the remaining structures because of contamination, liability and safety concerns.

Collins said the agreement with Vistra removes hurdles inherent with the power plant site for any future reuse, whatever that future redevelopment use may be.

Demolishing the stacks is a potential first step toward Vistra’s larger goal to build a 600-watt battery storage facility on 22 acres of the 100-plus-acre site of the vacant Morro Bay Power Plant.

“We are not considering tonight a battery project, but that is ultimately what Vistra Corp. has submitted for review," Collins said. "It has to go through a lot of review before it gets there, but there is a potential in the future to create sort of a green hub within the City of Morro Bay.”

Collins said the agreement between the City of Morro Bay and Vistra provides benefits to the community while also opening the door for possible redevelopment of the old power plant site.

Since some residents see the stacks as a beauty, and others view them as a blight, the city plans to provide community engagement to discuss what should happen to the power plant site and the three smokestacks that have towered above it since the 1950’s.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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