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Monday, December 1, 2014

A Power Plant in California Goes Quiet

As transition from a fossil-fuel to clean-energy economy, we will certainly grapple with industries that are falling and losing jobs...and, as below, leaving  empty facilities behind.

We saw this many years ago after the burn out of the industrial revolution--abandoned factory buildings littering the Northeast and Midwest, dirty, polluted rivers, lots and lots of lost jobs.  However, in this case, we are lucky enough to see many jobs quickly getting picked up in the new, green economy.  

This situation allows for immediate resurgence as well.  These stack towers, with the permits in place for vertical space, have value.  For those industries who need such vertical real estate, IE :  cell phone providers, radio station operators, wind energy sites,  it may well be worth their while to reuse or replace those structures with their own assets.  It could be a collaborative in which the town, State and private developer co-invest in the site...bringing revenue and jobs back to the site.

By the way CA replaces most of this power with efficiency programs that drove down the need for this facility.  We did a radio show on this that you can find at our main site--renewablenow.biz.

A Power Plant in California Goes Quiet, but the Stacks Still Tower



Photo

The power plant on Morro Bay, Calif., which some see as a blight on an otherwise exceptional view, would cost millions of dollars to dismantle and remove. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times


MORRO BAY, Calif. — The showpiece of this sparkling California fishing village is a 581-foot-high mountain of volcanic rock rising from the water, drawing gawkers and tourists from up and down the coast. Yet for 50 years, Morro Bay, which likes to call itself the Gibraltar of the Pacific, has been just as defined by a no-less-assertive landmark, staring down the rock from across the bay: three 450-feet-high power plant smokestacks, visible from 10 miles away.
This incongruous clash between nature and industry, played out on a small bay bobbing with fishing boats and paddleboarders, has long been a source of disquiet in this small community halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. But in February, the plant shut down, leaving in its abandonment what one business leader calls a “three-finger salute” to Morro Bay and a wake of frustration about what can be done about what many see as a blight on their coast.
For a time, people here grew accustomed to — and on occasion, fond of — The Stacks, as they are known, accepting them as an unsightly price to pay for the local jobs, commerce and tax revenue. That has become much harder now.

  

The station’s three smokestacks shoot up from the middle of town, taking up prime real estate. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

“I looked at the ocean view, and I guess subconsciously, I just fuzzed it out,” said Rodger Anderson, an owner of the Anderson Inn, which offers rooms with a view of the rock as well as rooms that look out at The Stacks. “Now, I’m just saddened that it will be there in a deteriorating state for decades, even generations.”
“It’s a nuisance,” he said. “It will get eventually graffitied. It’s going to be an ugly neighbor for years or decades.”
The Morro Bay Power Plant was built by Pacific Gas and Electric in the early 1950s, before the days of the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act. The community, excited at the promise of jobs and tax revenue in the midst of a postwar recession, gave no thought to including what today would be requisite provisions for the decommissioning of a plant. City officials estimated that taking down the stacks could cost $30 million; the general fund budget for Morro Bay was about $10 million this year.
“Where is the corporate responsibility in America today?” said Jamie L. Irons, the mayor. “How many cities out there have been impacted by the closure of a steel mill or auto plant or food processing plant? It can take decades to transition and rebuild.”
Cyndee Edwards, the president of the Morro Bay Merchants Association, said the closing was “a huge loss of revenue for us.”
She added: “We’re a small community, under 11,000 people. How are we going to sustain what we’ve been doing without that money?”
California is known for both its thirst for power and its celebration of the environment, and here these two passions have shared a small stage. When the plant, which began burning coal and was later converted to burn natural gas, closed, its owner, Dynegy, cited declining demand. Company officials said they were considering transforming it into a wave park, turning the energy from the ocean into electricity, or perhaps selling it. They said they had no plans to tear down the smokestacks.
City officials are hoping that it might instead be turned into a convention center, a hotel, or an aquarium — just as long as it is not left abandoned. But Mr. Irons said he had heard nothing from the company about what it might do.
“We are not in a process; it takes two willing participants,” he said.
The plant sprawls over 107 acres of prime real estate in the middle of town. The empty parking lot, a reminder of the loss of a plant that once employed 100 people, can be seen through padlocked gates. Signs warn of potential contamination by cancer-causing chemicals.

   

The plant, a boon for the town when it was built in the 1950s, can be seen from 10 miles away. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The relationship of this community to the Morro Bay Power Plant is complicated, with competition for icon status divided between its two fixtures on each side of the bay. Morro Bay is often referred to as Three Stacks and a Rock, a somewhat affectionate nickname. Local stores display T-shirts that with depictions of the rock — as well as T-shirts with depictions of the stacks.
“For me, honestly — other people are definitely going to say different things — when I am driving in from San Luis Obispo and I see at night the red little lights off of it, that means I’m home,” said Ms. Edwards, the owner of a skin care salon. “If they were gone, you would look at the rock, and it would look ancient. Totally different. The juxtaposition for me — this ancient rock, millions of years old, and the stacks, which are completely industrial — doesn’t bother me.”
But Gordon Hensley, who oversees this stretch of the coast for the California Coastkeeper Alliance, an environmental organization, offered a harsher view. “Personally, I think it’s an eyesore,” he said. “You have this relatively picturesque fishing village with this obviously industrial item right in the shadow of the Morro Rock, the Gibraltar of the Pacific.”
There are people who cast their eyes aside at the sight of the stacks or are ready with a quick apologetic history for how they got there. But Morro Bay is also filled with people who worked at the plant, or, as children going to school or adults paying taxes, reaped the economic benefits of having a prosperous plant.
“At the time it was built, it was seen as a beautiful, modern plant,” said Mr. Anderson, 65, the innkeeper, who was mayor for four years. “When we were in elementary school in the late ’50s, there was growth and money, and we got books. We were able to incorporate because of the large tax base from the plant.”
As for the rock, which is accessible by foot, there was a time when people would make the treacherous climb to the top — gathering for a bonfire or camping out — until a few fatal tumbles led the authorities to fence it off. Today, people stroll around it, or gaze up from the ocean while surfing the waves. The power plant drew water from one side of the rock to cool the turbines, and then released warm water on the other, drawing fish and in-the-know swimmers.
“As kids, we loved it in the winter,” Mr. Anderson said. “We had warm feet while waiting for the waves.”
Were it not for the rock and the stacks, this would be just another in a string of tranquil seaside communities along the California coast, with stores selling saltwater taffy, tourists snapping photographs of yelping sea lions and people heading out with surfboards or fishing boats. Though the town does have one other claim to fame: It was the home of the fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who died here in 2011.
And people are now turning to what might come next for the smokestacks.
“It’s got to be an incredibly valuable and attractive piece of property, so my mind always wanders — who would want a property like that right on the beach?” Mr. Hensley said. “A large hotel? We don’t have a convention center here.”
Brent Haugen, the executive director of the Morro Bay Tourism Bureau, called the loss of the plant a “huge opportunity” for the community, but said that whatever happened, the stacks should stay.
“Keeping the stacks is a way of keeping some tradition,” he said. “I often think about St. Louis and the arch. It could be a huge public art project.”

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